Copyright is undoubtedly one of the most controversial topics online. Major copyright holders are taking a new tack in attacking infringers by launching a copyright alert system involving Internet service providers. The plan incorporates a six strikes system.
How It Works
On February 25, 2013, the Copyright Alert System went live. This system involves a joint venture of sorts in which copyright holders are teaming up with internet service providers to address the ongoing copyright infringement problems one sees online.
In this system, the copyright holders will provide internet service providers with notice of infringement situations associated with individual customer accounts. The Internet service provider will then send a warning to the customer.
As you receive more warnings, the internet service provider starts implementing stiffer penalties. These penalties might include forcing you to take a “copyright class”, slowing down the pace at which you can download items on the web and ultimately closing your account.
Who are these internet providers? The company you are signed up with to gain access to the Internet – your cable company at home or Verizon for your smartphone. Yes, the plan applies to your smartphone.
The copyright holders are the big players in the entertainment industry. They include the Recording Industry Association of America [“RIAA”] and the Motion Pictures Association of America [“MPAA”]. These parties have historically led the fight against copyright infringement online.
The actual goal with the six strikes plan is to attack peer-to-peer file sharing systems. It is very difficult and expensive to pursue people sharing files through these systems. The Copyright Alert System is an effort to try to bypass these problems by simply snuffing out the web access of the people trading illicit copyrighted items.
There are a few obvious concerns with this approach. The first problem is there is simply no accounting for fair use, which is a justified defense to any copyright infringement claim. Let’s look at an obvious example of where this could be a problem.
Assume you download a copy of a video someone has made on YouTube parodying a Star Wars film. Parodies are acceptable uses of copyrighted works. In this case, however, Disney decides to send out a complaint to your Internet service provider. You cannot contest the claim. It now counts as one strike against your account. You can see how such claims might add up quickly.
Another concern is the internet service providers will be sharing this information with each other. The concern is the companies will use this information to blacklist customers. Remember, there is a time lag between the download and a complaint being filed. If your child discovers a bunch of free songs on different peer-to-peer sites and downloads 25 of them, you have just committed 25 violations and could be barred from the web.
Corporation control is another major concern in this situation. Instead of a government agency addressing the matter, for which there are checks and balances, we have large corporations controlling who can access the web. It may seem a bit paranoid, but censorship usually grows through small steps instead of one sweeping action. The new six strikes plan certainly constitutes more than a few baby steps.
Is the six strike plan launched through the Copyright Alert System a viable approach to dealing with copyright issues online? Not really. While it will sweep up unintentional infringers, the hardcore copyright violators can avoid discovery through proxies and other technical maneuvers. On top of all this, one can expect to see an avalanche of lawsuits launched against the various internet service providers and entertainment companies by supposed infringers. It is going to be interesting to watch how it all plays out.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.
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