How to punish peer-to-peer pirates

My friend and supplier The Movie Pirate is worried. “What can they do to me?” he asked me over the holiday weekend, when he heard the news about something even more sinister than Black Friday or Cyber Monday: this coming Wednesday when AT&T, Time Warner and other broadband providers are going to start enforcing their “six strikes” proposal to stop illegal copies of movies, TV shows and other content from being downloaded from peer networking sites.

The Movie Pirate (let’s call him John) has been stealing movies and TV shows for many years, thanks to PirateBay and other BitTorrent sites that make it about as easy as the click of a mouse to download a file. He doesn’t sell any of his movies: they are just for his own amusement and for a few friends. But that doesn’t make his actions right. He thinks of it as a hobby. And while I have been a beneficiary of his downloads, I know what he is doing is illegal. So does he.

At the center of this issue is the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), a relatively new operation that is funded by the movie studios, the recording industry and several broadband providers. Their proposal to try to curb the illegal downloads involves several steps, such as sending multiple emails notifying users, then getting them to acknowledge their misdeeds, then various increasing forms of punishment. These include throttling connection speeds or blocking particular websites, but not outright disconnection or legal action.

The name “six strikes” that was first attached to this program originated from the original CCI memorandum of understanding establishing the CCI in July 2011 where it stated that each person will have six copyright alerts, each separated by a week’s grace period. These alerts come from the broadband provider who is monitoring IP addresses that source the content downloads.

On a panel that cNet’s Declan McCullagh moderated in New York last month, the broadband companies spoke about these steps and how they are after the little guy, like my friend John. CCI head Jill Lesser responded that the goal isn’t to stop those trying to avoid IP laws and make a living selling one-dollar DVDs on Asian streecorners. Rather, it’s to educate “the vast majority of the people for whom trading in copyrighted material has become a social norm, over many years.”

While I think this is misplaced, it will be interesting to see how many notices go out this week when the providers spin up their tracking systems. This is what got my friend worried, who uses an AT&T broadband connection that is shared amongst his neighbors. He doesn’t want one of these email notices going to the account holder, and I don’t blame him. He asked me: “So I can download all the kiddie porn that I want but movies are going to get me in trouble?” Well, for now that is true. That, and you probably don’t want to use Gmail as a dead drop for messages to your mistress either.

Of course, there is a next step in the peer-to-peer piracy war, and that is to start using VPNs to block your real IP address when you want to download illegal content. McCullagh asked this of his panel session. My friend John is investigating VPN providers at the moment. He is looking at this article from TorrentFreak that asked more than a dozen of them if they keep any IP logging information and under what circumstances would they share them with third parties.

The movie studios could learn from the mistakes of the whole peer music piracy debacle of the late 1990s. They could make it easier for folks to find and download legal content. But that would require some careful thought by people other than lawyers to build better systems, such as the ones that are operated by Pirate Bay and others.


3 thoughts on “How to punish peer-to-peer pirates

  1. Looks to me that this is another very expensive and convoluted method to “educate” the public through coercion. Telling current clients (which many will be) that they are crooks is not smart. The answer is to make the content easier to get, safer to use, of higher quality, and with better levels of service. Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and others are already doing this. Many of the cable companies offer missed shows over the Internet as well. Instead of threatening copyright infringement, they just need to direct people to legitimate sources that will serve them better.

  2. As always Hollywood RIAA and MPAA trounce all fair use with their version of “fair” use which is pay for everything multiple times, you can’t watch it when and where you want. They’ve locked my Tivo so I can’t take movies from HBO/Showtime etc on the road with me on my iPad for example. I used to be able to do that – this is he *only* time I get to watch any of the over priced content they stuff down my cable service in the 100’s of channels I am forced to take but don’t want. But it is all moot anyway – I’ve been stealing for years – I owned an original TiVo and skip ads…shocking theft
    skipping ads on TV is stealing (classic funny quote)
    They did not learn with Napster and are now trying the same punitive action on movies and videos. Expect the same EPIC Fail on this venture imo

    The only player that has really delivered a value service has been NetFlix – $8 pm all you can eat, no adverts. Unfortunately your hosed if the connection slows, goes or in the case of internet neutrality gone awry as in Comcast’s case of misbehavior – throttled.
    Aparently they have been better behaved but only after they were caught and were slapped by the FCC
    BTW – Hulu worst service ever…they want me to pay and then force me to watch commercials – 3 or 4 sets in a 22 minute episode of some old TV series. I don’t think so. I still need an offline method that works. Even if WiFi comes to aircraft it will never be cost effective to stream at 35,000 ft and besides which I want to have it accessible no matter where I am and what the connection speed is or who it is shared and crushed by.

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