'Three strikes' for the Web

April 15, 2010 McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Faced with a pandemic of online piracy, Hollywood studios and the major record labels have pressed governments around the world to make it easier for them to enforce their copyrights. In particular, they've tried to shift responsibility for infringements from the individuals who commit them -- who are legion and hard to identify -- to targets that are easier to hit. And gradually, they have been succeeding.

The latest example is a hotly disputed British law that sets new rules for digital broadcasting and the Internet. Dubbed the Digital Economy Act, it requires Internet service providers to send warning notices to customers whose broadband connections have allegedly been used for piracy. If the warnings don't reduce infringement to the government's satisfaction, regulators can order ISPs to ramp up sanctions on repeat offenders, potentially culminating in the suspension of their Internet access.

This sort of "three strikes" approach, which France has also adopted, has drawn howls of protest from certain ISPs and technology advocates. Some don't consider online to be a problem, or believe holders should simply embrace the fact that millions are downloading their works for free instead of buying them. We have little sympathy for that point of view.

On the other hand, British lawmakers seem to have paid scant attention to the fact that copyright holders can't tell who, exactly, is bootlegging their movies, games and songs online. No one can. ISPs can tell which account was involved and, potentially, which computer was used. But they can't tell who was sitting at the keyboard. And in the case of a public wireless network at an airport or a restaurant, they may not be able to say for sure which of the dozens of simultaneous users was the pirate. As a result, by exposing those who pay for broadband accounts to sanctions rather than the specific users, the law muddles the issue of who's responsible for misdeeds online. It also could give copyright holders too much power over ISPs and disruptive technologies.

Much depends on how the law is implemented by the government officials who were left to work out key details. One danger is that the duties and liabilities they impose could prompt those who provide Internet access in public spaces -- coffee shops, libraries, universities and the like _ to stop or limit their services to avoid any risk of even innocent infringement. That would be a step backward for Britain's efforts to promote ubiquitous broadband. Another potential pitfall is that the law's appeals process won't prevent broadband account holders from being penalized for a third party's misbehavior. Nor are ISPs in any position to judge when an alleged infringement is actually a fair use of copyrighted works.

That's why Britain should move forward carefully. The first anti-piracy step called for by the new law -- having ISPs alert customers about alleged infringing activity on their accounts -- could be a good one, if the government sets the right threshold. The steps after that, however, raise the risk of ugly unintended consequences.

Explore further: AT&T to start sending copyright warnings


Related Stories

AT&T to start sending copyright warnings

March 26, 2009

(AP) -- AT&T Inc., the nation's largest Internet service provider, will start sending warnings to its subscribers when music labels and movie studios allege that they are trafficking in pirated material, according to an ...

UK says illegal downloaders may lose Web access

August 25, 2009

(AP) -- People who repeatedly download copyrighted films and music could have their Internet connection cut off under proposed laws to tackle illegal file-sharing unveiled by the British government on Tuesday.

Hollywood lodges appeal in Internet piracy case

February 25, 2010

Hollywood film studios Thursday lodged an appeal against a landmark legal judgment which found an Australian Internet provider was not responsible for illegal movie downloads by its customers.

Fears Australian piracy case could shut off net

January 31, 2010

Australian Internet rights groups fear a piracy court case could force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to become "copyright cops" and cut web access to customers who make illegal downloads.

Recommended for you

When words, structured data are placed on single canvas

October 22, 2017

If "ugh" is your favorite word to describe entering, amending and correcting data on the rows and columns on spreadsheets you are not alone. Coda, a new name in the document business, feels it's time for a change. This is ...

Enhancing solar power with diatoms

October 20, 2017

Diatoms, a kind of algae that reproduces prodigiously, have been called "the jewels of the sea" for their ability to manipulate light. Now, researchers hope to harness that property to boost solar technology.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2010
Sadly I think people will look back on the decade spanning 2000-2010 to be the age of internet enlightenment before it all turns into a censored commercialised world.
5 / 5 (3) Apr 16, 2010
Copyrights on certain types of media/information should be abolished and replaced with time-limited patent-type rights.
5 / 5 (4) Apr 16, 2010
Copyright law is out of date when it comes to the Internet, and it's impossible to enforce.
The concept of the Internet is very 'Star Trek' and too modern a concept for our capitalist society trying to keep control of everything.
They need to find other ways of conpensation for rights holders, like through ad revenue, rather than buying something directly.
5 / 5 (3) Apr 16, 2010
If ISPs are responsible for activities of users, then why not cable companies? What if someone records a copy of a movie playing on cable? How about recording a song off the radio? Should the radio station liable? These laws seem to be targeting the technology, not the root cause.
4 / 5 (4) Apr 16, 2010
The age of ownership needs to be banished. It is individualism with no internal consequences as applied to a non-entitled corporate entity. This allows faceless corporations to run rampant against society.

Firstly, in the US- the law history that creates corporations as a human entity needs to be found invalid, as it actually is a legal falsification of law, a literal fabrication.

Go after their falsified capacity to seek and claim entitlement.

Strike at the root, not at the fingered limbs of the thing that is wagging in front of you.
3.6 / 5 (5) Apr 16, 2010
our horrible governments are overstepping their bounds. They are ever expanding bureaucracy at it's finest. Expand it by 10%, get us to pay 20% more. That is all they do, in the end they aren't protecting anybody and are only a slave factory. We should get angry over these internet laws, because I think most of us would rather see hollywood go bankrupt than lose our right to free information.

The same applies to knowledge, why should we have to pay a school tens of thousands to teach us when it should be freely available on the web?

Rather than socialize health care, they should socialize home learning and make learning a priority because it's only a heavily educated public that we will emerge from this horrible economic crash and eco-fascist banker take over.
3 / 5 (4) Apr 16, 2010
Wow. Look at that, unanimous sentiment. The people want change. It's time for change.

I have an idea. How about Copyrights and Patents are abolished entirely.

Instead let's reward companies/individuals for their contributions to society.

The more impacting their product/idea/indention/literary work/software and the further it permeates society the more they should be rewarded.

Grants could be awarded for creative development and rewards later passed out for successful products.
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2010
I don't even illegally download. This news makes me want to just to spite them. Here's an idea, make music and movies cheap. iTunes charges 1.29 for a song! That amounts to the price of a cd except they didn't have to produce the disc, ship it, put it in a store, or pay an employee to check me out. They need to realize that being a pop or movie star won't be a multimillion dollar profession anymore. Media should be cheap given how easily you can distribute content.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2010
The law of unintended consequences: darknets.
There will be a massive proliferation of encrypted darknets driven by file sharers, but used by criminal elements of all kinds making general law enforcement far more difficult.
not rated yet Apr 17, 2010
"We have little sympathy for that point of view."

Who's "we?" You got a turd in your pocket? Sorry, couldn't resist.
not rated yet Apr 18, 2010
These steps would only increase development in encryption in p2p. The piracy itself will not decrease, it will only become more advanced.
not rated yet Apr 18, 2010
The Hollywood Studios and Record Labels are the bloody pirates! Unfortunately, the US Congress is easily purchased which has let these bastards get copyright limits extended far beyond what the Constitution actually intends. What's worse is that they want the federal government to act as hired thugs to enforce their corrupt buying of copyright laws favourable to themselves. :-/
not rated yet Apr 18, 2010
I strongly suspect the people who think everything on the Intertubes should be free have never produced anything of value themselves. Excepting (as RH points out) fertilizer.
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
I strongly suspect the people who think everything on the Intertubes should be free have never produced anything of value themselves. Excepting (as RH points out) fertilizer.

(*Notes to Linux and free software movement*). It was started by people, who ultimately believe, that all information should be free.
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
Every time I load a DVD or BRD and am forced to watch stuff I don't want to watch (previews and that miserable FBI warning as well as others) and am prevented from getting to the 'play' option right away, I wish I had a bootleg disc.
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
even if every movie is free to download, people will still go to the movies. people will still go to concerts. people will still listen to the radio, and the myriad of adverts that go with it. the only problem is, the movie stars and the rock stars who will be only millionaires instead of multi-millionaires.
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
How is prosecuting for patent or copyright infringement different than censorship?
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
Just something that may be interesting for yall. http://en.wikiped...sion_Act

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.