The decision by Internet service providers this week to combat, educate, and punish people sharing copyrighted files online has provoked a storm of criticism by digital rights groups and some Internet users.
The response is a reaction to Thursday's announcement that the nation's largest ISPs, including Comcast and Verizon, have agreed to work with Hollywood and the music industry and play a more active role to protect copyright owners. ISPs have agreed to identify suspected copyright violators and warn them via e-mail or bring their Internet connection to a crawl.
Criticism over what is called the "Copyright Alert System" centers around charges of unfair policies and procedures and accusation that the policy tramples users' rights. Others question the effectiveness of the new measure. At sites catering to the people who share, swap, and download digital content readers are weighing in with possible workarounds to avoid copyright alerts.
ICV2, which comments on these antipiracy tactics with the illustration at left, notes that "The voluntary agreement from the five leading ISPs represents a different approach from that taken by some other countries, which have adopted tough "three strikes laws, which are universal in scope and backed by the power of a specific statute."
David Sohn, senior policy council with the Center for Democracy & Technology says in a release that CDT is disappointed that "temporary restriction" of Internet access is a mitigation possibility. Sohn believes it is wrong to temporarily disconnect a customer from his or her Internet connection "based on allegations that have not been tested in court." He also says that making sure the alerts are sent to the subscriber will be difficult and he isn't sure how effective the appeal process will be for accused infringers.
Abigail Phillips, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is also skeptical. Phillips points out in a response to the ISPs announcement that the policy says failure to secure a Wi-Fi router can only be used once in the appeal process. She says that will have serious consequences for small businesses that allow customers to access Wi-Fi networks. She also notes that people who want to appeal an alert must send their personal information to content owners.
Kevin Gosztola says on Firedoglake that it is outrageous that subscribers must pay a $35 fee to initiate a review. He speculates that the fee may be a way for ISPs to cover administrative costs. He also is concerned that fair use claims would be handled by an independent expert on copyright law. Gosztola says if the representative is selected by the industry interest groups will likely have a conflict of interest in favor of the ISPs and the entertainment industry.
Nate Anderson of Ars Technica pointed out that the announcement's alleged focus on education is questionable since content owners have historically sued subscribers "securing absurd multimillion dollar judgments." He also says that mitigation measures result from private, unverified accusations.
Hillel Parness, partner with trial firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, told E-Commerce Times that the ISPs roles need to be better defined -- he's not sure if they will actively seek out illegal activities or just respond to notices from the copyright owners. Parness also speculates that ISPs may be getting involved to remove any P2P strain on their networks.
TorrentFreak reader Scary Devil Monastery recommends using a proxy or VPN to mask Internet activity from ISPs. Reader Violate0 suggests that content pirates can use file lockers and news servers to avoid third-party watching.