Anis Vijay Modi
Attention college students: I hope you downloaded enough movies and televisions series to last you for, well, ever. Starting last Monday, the nation’s five biggest Internet providers have a legal permission from the government to hunt you down and pick on you until you agree to stop illegally downloading copyrighted content.
The Copyright Alert System was signed into law in late 2011, but thanks to numerous delays, has only started its operations this week. Under the act’s mandate, the nation’s biggest Internet Service Providers (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Cablevision, and Time Warner) now have a free hand from the government to set their own policies against their user’s piracy. Basically, content producers (e.g. RIAA for music, or MPAA for movies, etc.) will monitor peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent for any of their content, and then tell on you to your service provider.
In turn, the service providers have a handful of ways of making your life more and more uncomfortable as you go through your six strikes. First, they will probably issue a subtle yet clear warning saying “here’s a couple of ways to legally download what you’re looking for!”, or any “stop or we’ll tell mommy and daddy” kind of message. From there on, it’s every content provider for itself. Some companies have vowed that they will slow users’ Internet down to a stylish 1990s dial-up speed, while some companies, like Comcast, settled for making repeating offenders watch a boring educational video that will definitely make you stop downloading if you do not want to see it again.
This is not going to mean that every college student downloading a Game of Thrones episode will get arrested. The Center for Copyright Information, the organization that is responsible for running the program, has made it clear that they are all about “educating consumers,” not throwing them into jail. Besides, that would be awful for business. What happens after the sixth and final strike, you ask? Well, basically nothing. Internet providers do not have permission to keep harassing you after your sixth infringement. On the other hand, content producers could, in theory, sue you, much like they have been trying to do in the past several years. Many critics of the system say that it does not bring anything new to the table, since Internet Service Providers have been operating alert systems for year. What this development amounts to, in their perspective, is a poorly coordinated effort to make some waves and get media attention in the process. In addition, the system will not cover direct downloads and web-based illegal downloading networks, two aspects that are sure to hurt its efficiency.
The CCI is funded by the same guys who are producing most of the illegally downloaded content going around the Internet—the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. The organization has also created a calm-jazzy Youtube video trying to explain how the system works to the broader audience. Despite being presented as a sort of educational program for small-time content-sharers, consensus around the idea of the six strike system tells of the reality of Internet piracy: it is here to stay.