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UK Moves to Disconnect P2P Pirates
February 12, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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There are plenty of Americans who hate the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). It explicitly deters copyright circumvention, stifles fair use, and has given the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) ammunition to identify suspected P2P pirates. At the end of the day, however, the DMCA has probably done more to help file-sharing than hurt it.

Why's that? As much as the DMCA is regarded as the scourge of the Internet, it has a very special section called the "safe harbor provision" for ISPs. During the late 90s, ISPs such as AT&T fought very hard to have this provision entered into the DMCA. The safe harbor provision protects the ISP from any and all criminal and/or civil infractions that may transpire across their networks.

This has worked great for:

Usenet providers. Because of the DMCA, Usenet (newsgroup) providers such as GigaNews and Usenet Server can operate with virtual impunity.

The Internet Access Provider. If your local provider has a good newsgroup server, they won't be held responsible for copyright infringement by the entertainment industry.

P2P networks. Despite Grokster, iMesh, Kazaa, and countless other network decapitations, the DMCA has absolved the ISP from any responsibility to stop more robust protocols like BitTorrent and eDonkey. Although AT&T appears comfortable complying with Hollywood, other big players such as Verizon are taking advantage of their protection.

The American consumer. U2 manager Paul McGuinness has been outspoken about holding the ISP responsible. His latest speech has been applauded by industry pundits, but the US consumer should be deeply concerned with his questionable sentiments.

"The US government has sometimes been overzealous in protecting the public from cartel-like behaviour."

Believe it or not, the DMCA has protected the average file-sharer. Without the DMCA, the RIAA and/or MPAA may have been able to effectively lobby for ISP filtering long ago. Because of the DMCA, ISPs can tell just about anyone where to go and how to get there.

The DMCA hasn't worked well for:

Just about everyone else. The US government's "overzealous" behavior, as it applies to the protection of the consumer, hasn't translated well to the rest of the world. This is especially true for citizens of the United Kingdom, Denmark, and France. These countries are currently enacting legislation that will force ISPs to "disconnect" users who continuously upload material. In the case of Denmark, the courts have ordered the ISP Tele2 to block The Pirate Bay - not exactly a legislative move, but it accomplishes the same thing.

The current news from the United Kingdom is a bit more ominous. According to the Times Online, the UK government considering legislation that will implement a "three strike" policy against suspected P2P pirates. The first two times a suspected pirate is caught, he or she will be warned. The third time, the user will be disconnected. The article doesn't specify if the individual will be blacklisted, or free to find a new ISP to call home. Currently, there is no official movement for legislation, only a commitment to review the potential for such a law.

Interestingly, in the United States the RIAA appears less enthusiastic about forcing ISPs to filter/block/whatever unauthorized material. RIAA frontman Cary Sherman has said as much, saying he'd rather see voluntary enforcement rather than a legislative act. And the entertainment industry, at least in the US, probably knows a technological response will render such an attempt obsolete.

The entertainment industry has tried every method to thwart P2P. They tried to kill the movement with Napste, tried discouraging users with lawsuits, tried flooding networks, and tried shutting down BitTorrent trackers. Although there have been instances of success, the overall effort has failed. Somewhere in the entertainment industry's think-tank is someone who thinks ISP filtering/blocking/disconnecting is a good idea. It isn't. Not because the idea will ultimately fail, but it’s nearly impossible to reconcile such a draconian approach in a democratic society.


This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: International

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