Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Strike Three, Yer Offline!

People share and copy digital files. This is a fact of life in a time where most westerners on the planet have access to the world's greatest copying machine: a computer.

The RIAA has tried combating this trend in many ways, most of which punished customers and/or the people innovating ways to distribute its product. For example, suing Napster and other companies that made file-sharing easier. Suing individuals (including grandmothers and dead people) for sharing digital files. Crippling digital files by infecting them with Digital Rights Management implements making the files (a) less useful across platforms than they should be, (b) subject to self-destruction if the seller goes out of business or decides to change it's terms.

The latest attempt, with anti-filesharing zealots in France taking the lead, involves a three strikes rule where, if a user is caught infringing copyright material three times, the alleged infringer and his or her "whole household is taken offline and added to a list of address to which it is illegal to provide Internet access."

First of all, it is impossible to inspect every file shared across the internet, particularly those sent via torrents. Most transmission methods involve breaking files up into granular pieces and routing those scrambled pieces to their intended destination through many different routes. Without employing extremely invasive spying methods on average citizens, there is no way to track who is sending what to whom.

Even if the files being transferred are indeed identified, who knows if the contents are copyrighted, being transferred with consent, and for what purpose they are being transferred in this way. For example, as an internet radio station, record labels, bands, and radio promotion companies send me promotional versions of albums all the time. About 40% of those albums arrive via digital distribution using similar and sometimes the same methods that would likely be seen by a monitoring service as "piracy." Think about how hard it is to clean a stained credit report that was sullied by identity theft...I can only imagine how hard it would be to clear ones record once your name is added to some unaccountable "filesharing watch list."

In France this three strikes, then disconnect plan will be overseen by a government agency called Hadopi beginning this Spring. Guess what? Hadopi may soon be sued by the designer of the font it used, without permission, in it's logo. It would be funny if it weren't so damned serious.

Agencies like Hadopi, which can't navigate it's own way around the copyright minefield, are going to be in charge of policing the internet for copyright infringement? And given the power to ban users and their families from using the internet?

Imagine for a moment what being banned from using the internet would mean for hundreds of millions of people who rely on the internet for communication, news, entertainment, work, play, banking, paying bills, education, medical name it, it's online these days.

Now imagine how much power those agencies are being granted.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Then, when this starts coming up in a jurisdiction near you, voice your opinion against Big Brother and his minions. Loudly.


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