Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Why you should care about the "Copyright Alert System."

What happened:
Major Internet Service Providers ("ISPs") agreed to monitor peer-to-peer file sharing over their networks to identify and prevent copyright infringement. The measure was lobbied for by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. The "Copyright Alert System" provides for "mitigation measures," which include decreasing Internet access of alleged infringers and directing their searches to "educational" web pages on copyright infringement.

Why you should care:
It is another example of the recording and film industries getting their way through lobbying efforts. Surely, copyright infringement is not a good thing. I am not advocating it. But most large companies are bullies. When it comes to any kind of property rights, they always assert more rights than they have. It is simply smart business to do so. It would not be smart business to claim less rights than you have, because you could get trampled on by other businesses or those with adverse interests to your company. As a result, legitimately protected use of copyrighted material may be limited by this measure, because fair use of copyrighted material is unlikely to be acknowledged by the copyright holders.

This measure is unnecessary, and is in response to failed legislation. I do not see what ISPs get out of the deal. Yesterday, they were unable to monitor their networks for infringing content. As a result, they were afforded the benefit of the safe harbor provision of Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) (provided the ISP was "passive"). A passive ISP is transitory, does not have actual knowledge of infringing activity, does not know of facts and circumstances leading it to believe infringement is apparent, and does not gain a financial benefit from the infringing activity. Today, the ISPs can monitor for infringing content, and are doing so for no disclosed benefit.

What changed that ISPs are now able to monitor for infringing content, when they could not before?  Also, why would ISPs agree to limit Internet access of paying customers for the benefit of the recording and film industries? By itself, the measure is relatively innocuous. Copyright holders have access to remedies for copyright infringement, and this is an example of ISPs doing more to prevent infringement. But it just does not add up to me: What do ISPs get out of the deal? Why are they all of the sudden monitoring for infringing activity today when they were unable to do so yesterday?

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