Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ISPs set to enforce illegal downloads in the UK

The latest instalment of a concerted campaign by the IFPI in trying to curb online infringement of their music has arrived (they are trying to attack ISPs). This has been building up in the last few months, as I believe that the bright sparks at the RIAA and the IFPI may have finally realised that suing their own customers has not turned the tide of illegal file-sharing. First, France has announced that it will require ISPs to monitor and police copyright infringement. Then Paul MacGuinness, the manager of U2, made a public attack against ISPs, blaming them for the rise of file-sharing. Now, the UK will unveil a Green Paper where legislation is outlined which will bring the idea of "three strikes you're out" regime, where illegal sharers will be given a warning, then they will get a temporary disconnection, and then they will lose their service.

I know that I will hardly shock readers by stating that I think this is a bad idea. ISPs have been in private conversations with the music industry for the last year in order to agree on an industry code of conduct, or a set of regulations, but these have not been fruitful. I am guessing that the music industry threatened to lobby for regulation if no agreement was reached, and this seems to be precisely what is happening. I do not expect ISPs to take it sitting down, and I am expecting to see some serious lobbying coming from the likes of Virgin and BT. I am also concerned about the enforcement of such a measure. How exactly are they planning to police traffic? Will they act only on confirmed cases of infringement, or will they act only on the suspicion of infringement? What about legitimate traffic that uses bittorrent protocols? Will users be given a form of appeal procedure?

But the biggest problem that I have with this proposal is that it shifts the burden of justice to private entities. Similarly, I do not think for a minute that it will stop infringement, it will simply continue to balkanise P2P and make sure that users exchange music in increasingly more ingenious ways. The days of the P2P client are over, nowadays people share files using all sorts of applications and protocols. How will they stop that?

Music has gone digital. Consumers have gone digital. The industry should work around that fact and change their business model. More of the same failed enforcement mechanisms will not solve anything.

1 comment:

seanas said...

There's an interesting post on Bruce Schneier's blog about an effective way for copyright owners to block P2P:

"All that is necessary is that the MPAA or their contractor automatically spiders for torrents. When it finds torrents, it connects to each torrent with manipulated clients. The client would first transfer enough content to verify copyright, and then attempt to map the participants in the Torrent.

Now the MPAA has a "map" of the participants, a graph of all clients of a particular stream. Simply send this as an automated message to the ISP saying "This current graph is bad, block it". All the ISP has to do is put in a set of short lived (10 minute) router ACLs which block all pairs that cross its network, killing all traffic for that torrent on the ISP's network. By continuing to spider the Torrent, the MPAA can find new users as they are added and dropped, updating the map to the ISP in near-real-time."

original link:

This technique would seem to be a very elegant implementation of the green paper's proposals.