The Piracy Bullies Want Your ISP to Do Their Dirty Work

The piracy bullies are back in the news, and this time they're bringing powerful friends. Having failed to coerce Congress into passing SOPA or PIPA last January, the RIAA, MPAA, and other members of the content cartel are getting new allies in the war on scurvey Internet scofflaws: the nation's biggest Internet service providers.

(Today's Notes From the Field is being brought to you by Four Letter Acronyms Inc., or FLAI.)

Per Cnet's Greg Sandoval, the aforementioned FLAs outlined their plans to introduce ISP-level scanning for copyrighted materials before a meeting of the Association of American Publishers last week. Sandoval quoted RIAA CEO Cary Sherman thusly:

Each ISP has to develop their infrastructure for automating the system...[and] for establishing the database so they can keep track of repeat infringers, so they know that this is the first notice or the third notice. Every ISP has to do it differently depending on the architecture of its particular network. Some are nearing completion and others are a little further from completion.

Sandoval adds:

Participating ISPs can choose from a list of penalties, or what the RIAA calls "mitigation measures," which include throttling down the customer's connection speed and suspending Web access until the subscriber agrees to stop pirating.

Isn't that special? Yes, but not terribly surprising. This has been in the works for more than a year, and little wonder; with media companies like Time Warner (CNN, TBS, Warner Music Group, Warner Bros. Entertainment) and Comcast (NBC, MSNBC, USA Network) at the top of the broadband ISP food chain, the content deliverers are also the content owners. The news here is they've named a start date of July 12.

There are a lot of problems with this scheme, the most notable of which is that for ISPs to find copyright violators they have to sniff the data streams of all of their customers, including the 99.9 percent who did not download Young Jeezy's "Thug Motivation 103" the second it hit the torrent sites. I call that a gross violation of my privacy. (Speaking of thug motivation....)

Meanwhile, across the pond, the 24-year-old Business Software Alliance is also making headlines again, after a disgruntled small-business owner received a "nauseating" letter from the BSA and shared it with the editors of UK tech site PC Pro.

The letter, seen by PC Pro, was sent by law firm Bristows, and states that the "BSA has received a complaint alleging that your company is using unauthorised or unlicensed copies of software". The letter demands the recipient conduct a full software audit, saying that if it reveals improper copies of software, the companies could "claim various remedies, including that the unlicensed installations be deleted" and "compensation in the form of damages be paid for the period of unlicensed use".

These tactics are also not new. It's intimidation, plain and simple. Scaring businesses into complying is all the BSA was formed to do. The problem, as the PC Pro story points out, is that the BSA may not have the legal grounds to do what it is threatening to do:

As the BSA letters tend not to lead to court cases, one lawyer suggested the letters were written to generate maximum impact without necessarily having much power to act.

"It's designed to scare the recipient into thinking that they're obliged to provide certain information when, in fact, it's difficult to see that they are," said David Woods, a senior associate within the IT team at Pinsent Masons. "There are references to an unspecified complaint that seems to have been made, and after that it's a fishing exercise."

The "solution" to both of these tactics is simple, if drastic: Call their bluff.

If enough people ignore the BSA's threats, it will have to start suing -- eating up whatever profit it might make from the fines it levies. When every ISP subscriber is a pirate, no one is a customer any more. Good-bye revenue streams.

I'm not saying it will be pretty for those who are sued (and lose) or for Netizens who find their access throttled or cut off. And I'm not suggesting anyone out there in Cringeville become one of them. I'm just saying that they're hollow threats that can only work if people believe in them.

Personally, I'm tired of being threatened by the content and software cartels. How about you?

Had a nasty brush with the RIAA or BSA? Weigh in below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "The piracy bullies want your ISP to do their dirty work," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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