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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Center for Copyright Information: An Anti-piracy Measure That Makes Sense

Posted By on Tue, Apr 3, 2012 at 10:30 AM

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About seven years ago, I read something online about a then-recent episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overcome with the desire to watch the episode for myself, but without a subscription to HBO, I fired up LimeWire, the now-defunct file-sharing software, and quickly found the episode I wanted.

An hour later, I had my file and was just starting to watch the show when I got an e-mail from my ISP. It warned me that the people at HBO had noticed my illicit activity and that if I continued downloading copyrighted material, I might have to find a new ISP. I was shocked by how quickly I had been busted, and I was -- as intended -- scared off of downloading anything else, particularly anything produced by HBO or any other pay channel.

This is why I think that a new initiative -- the Center for Copyright Information -- might be effective. It will scare off people like me: casual downloaders

I've never been much of a pirate. I've illicitly downloaded music, but generally only stuff that's not available through legitimate channels like iTunes -- including live cuts, bootlegs, or back-catalog tunes that aren't otherwise available. My default option is always to pay for my media -- not only because it's the right thing to do, but because it's usually easier, faster, and safer. I really don't like patronizing skeevy operators like Pirate Bay, with their horrible, lowbrow porn advertisers. Illicitly downloaded songs and movies are often of substandard quality. It's usually worth it to just pay for them.

I took HBO's warning more seriously than I would have taken a warning from, say, NBC for downloading an advertising-sponsored show, because downloading a pay-TV show seemed more like theft to me.

Yes, this is an entirely insensible set of "ethics." We shouldn't download anything, ever, when doing so violates copyright. But such squishy ethical standards are the norm online, and the CCI, somewhat refreshingly, seems to recognize that.

The idea behind the CCI, which will officially launch this summer, is to warn downloaders -- gently at first, and more harshly with each iteration. Upon the sixth warning, the ISP can suspend service. Customers can appeal through an arbitration service.

There is some controversy about the details, and understandable worries that the media companies represented by the MPAA and RIAA, which are co-sponsors, will find ways to work around the safeguards that are incorporated into the initiative. But ISPs are also co-sponsors, and their presence should help forestall any such problems. They don't want to lose customers to trumped up charges of piracy by overzealous copyright owners. Also, the CCI announced this week that several privacy and "cyber rights" advocates will sit on its advisory board.

In general, though, the CCI seems like a reasonable approach. Not that it's a cure-all. Far from it: It is but one approach. It won't stop many hardcore downloaders, who have at their disposal various technological means for masking their activities. The CCI's warnings are aimed at situational or occasional downloaders like me, who are more likely to be nudged -- or scared -- into doing the right thing.

They're also aimed at customers who might not know that their Internet account is being used for piracy -- by wifi hijackers, by their children, or by their layabout brother-in-law who pirates "American Pie" movies rather than looking for a job or an apartment.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

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Dan Mitchell

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