Following the French?

28 December 2008

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association Journal reported in a little article that the RIAA is going to stop randomly suing people for illegal music downloading.  Seems the RIAA finally realized that tactic was not producing the desired results and getting them extra problems.  This is good news.  However, the new approach is not without its own problems.

"The RIAA now plans a more practical enforcement effort concerning illegal downloads," the article explains.  And just what is this more practical enforcement?

"With the help of Internet service providers, those who repeatedly download music illegally and ignore ISP warnings are expected to have their Internet service first slowed down and then stopped entirely..."

That's practical?!  In a country that historically places such a high value on freedom of speech, independence and privacy, in a society that revolves around technology, this "practical" solution is opening several very large cans of worms.

As it turns out, the solution may not be quite as draconian as the quote makes it sound.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the new plan is actually a series of agreements between the RIAA and different ISP providers.  The deal is that the RIAA will stop suing consumers and the ISP providers will start contacting customers who appear to be illegally uploading copyright protected material.  If the customers ignore the warnings, the ISP providers can slow down and eventually cut-off the internet service.

The IPKat reported some months ago on a similar plan in France.  In late October, the French Senate approved a law that would cut off the internet service of people who illegally download copyright protected material.  Under the French model, internet access revocation is the final out in a three-strikes law.  Strike one: warning email.  Strike two: warning snail mail letter.  Strike three: the dark ages for an entire year.

In general, people seem to like the idea of receiving warnings and a chance to stop infringing behavior better than lawsuits.  However, many have also expressed some concerns.  French Senator Retailleau decried cutting off internet as discriminatory.  He described internet access as an "essential commodity" and its removal as "traumatic."  Readers of IPKat also commented on the variety of privacy issues raised by this method of fighting infringement.

Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge express similar concerns about the American plan and raise some others.  The president of Public Knowledge is worried about the due process of the system, stating, "we want to make certain that customers are not cut off from their Internet service or have their service altered solely on the basis of a claim by a copyright holder that file sharing is taking place."  The EFF points out that the punishment here seems to greatly outweigh the crime.  Guess Gilbert and Sullivan wouldn't approve.

Some proponents of the new arrangements believe that the warnings given to infringers by their internet providers will be enough to prevent the customers from continuing their illegal behavior.  If this is true, the system is fine because the ISP providers will never need to reach the controversial step of shutting off someone's internet service completely.  But what happens when someone decides to call their bluff?



Other related links:

Will France Introduce Digital Guillotine in Europe
French Internet Law Clashes with EU Position
RIAA Shuts Down its Lawsuit Machine
Three Strikes, Three Countries: France, Japan and Sweden
RIAA to Stop Suing Music Fans, Cut Them Off Instead
RIAA Confirms It Will Take Piracy Fight to ISPs


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