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.