Monday, May 6, 2013

Copyright wars: the Entertainment strikes back?

Libraries like to pay attention to what is happening in the world of copyright law.  I have noticed that what is happening “outside” of the law per se is interesting as well. 
A few weeks ago on NPR’s All Things Considered, Audie Cornish had a short piece on how some Internet service providers and entertainment industry trade groups cooperated to launch the Copyright Alert System (CAS), a non-government program instituted to discourage piracy online. 

How does it work?  When a movie or TV show is being swapped illegally, the program traces back to who is doing it using their IP address.  As New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann, explains, things start off quite gently:
“So it starts off very mildly. [if the person is looking for people who are downloading or uploading really complete copies of works] all [the program does] is throw up a pop-up window to say, hey, we saw what you're doing there. You know, there's this thing, copyright law, you really should be aware of it.”
He goes on to further explain how the “six strike system” might escalate in the case of more stubborn pirates:
“So after you get past the first two steps, they make it a little more serious by making sure they have your attention. So now they need you to acknowledge that you've actually seen the warnings. So you go to a kind of mini copyright jail where you have to actually click through to say I've seen this. It's kind of like when you're at the airport using the WiFi there, you have to click through the terms and conditions before you can get online. And part of this is building a record so that people can't say, I had no idea what was going on.”
Grimmelmann talks about how a variety of disciplinary or punitive measures might be taken against repeat offenders: blocking sites, making it harder to download, cancelling internet service, etc.

Internet privacy groups have their concerns about this, but I, for one, don’t see how this kind of activity can be avoided.  Grimmelmann seems to concur when he says, “I don't think education about copyright will do that much, but the sense of you are being watched might.”

That said, as I check the latest on this news (here, here, and here) I see that some folks have tried to test the “CAS”, and have found it to be “asleep at the switch” (most likely because it is unable to handle all the internet traffic).

I’m guessing bigger and better guns are coming. Even if “it only offers a Band-Aid to a very serious problem that needs to be addressed through legislation” (see here)