Cary Sherman, chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, has announced that by July 12, 2012, all major United States Internet service providers will be the “copyright police.” That’s right, your friendly ISP has voluntarily (no doubt with the promise of multi-millions in incentives) elected to monitor users for the downloading of copyrighted content. The plan, dubbed “six strikes”, is the most powerful effort against piracy ever instituted in the United States.
The plan is simple and gives users plenty of fair warning. ISP’s will monitor their users Internet activity. When copyrighted material is downloaded, the user will send what the RIAA calls an “educational notice” informing them that what they have done is against the law and has been detected. If the customer does it again, the ISP will send another notice. If infringing practices continue still, the ISP can cut down Internet access speeds dramatically, or sever the user’s connection entirely.
The RIAA, MPAA, and the White House all support the concept of ISP’s taking responsibility and monitoring what their customers are doing on the Internet themselves. ISP’s are tasked with developing a system to monitor web activity on their own, but all are reportedly completing the process. By July 12, the full “copyright police” should be in effect for Internet users via major service providers in the United States. No doubt smaller Internet providers will be bullied into following suit.
The piracy controversy has been going on for years, ever since the infamous Napster incident which resulted in huge music artists, such as Metallica, suing individual users for illegally downloading their content. The debate rages on as to whether this constitutes stealing or not. Some say that it is because people are downloading the intellectual content for their own gain. Others argue that it cannot be termed as stealing because the very definition of stealing is taking something from a party and depriving them of possession of it. Downloading content on the Internet in effect creates a copy of the content, so no one actually loses access to it. However, this is a loophole defense. Another argument is that it is impossible to determine whether illegal downloaders would have purchased the content otherwise. Basically, you can’t claim it as an actual loss if the product would not have been purchased anyway. The RIAA lists piracy as something that costs the United States $58 billion per year, but this number is terribly inflated by the fact that they are counting the full impact without taking into account those that simply download content because they are curious and would have never paid actual money for it if it had come down to it. Furthermore, how many artists benefit when an “illegal” downloader checks out their music and then shells out their money to go their concerts or buy more of their music legitimately. This is why this has been a hot-button issue throughout the last decade.
Despite the RIAA’s bold words, it is unclear how hard ISP’s will really try to do anything about this. Most likely they will go after major freeloaders as a token and continue with the status quo. No matter how much money the government and RIAA are paying them, it is difficult to see how cutting off Internet access to its customers could benefit any ISP in the long run. And, rest assured there is an army of hackers already preparing ways to get around this if they do.