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Mar 182012
 
Internet Law
by Samantha Lowell

Media Moguls At It Again

SOPA and PIPA could effectively destroy the Internet as it exists today, along with entire economies built on it around the world.

Undeterred by the failure of SOPA and PIPA, media giants have forged an agreement with Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and other major U.S. Internet service providers (ISPs) to police their own networks in an effort to catch digital pirates and stop illegal file-sharing. Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said most of the participating ISPs should start implementing the program by July 1. This agreement follows the closure of file-sharing giant Megaupload and increased pressure by the MPAA and RIAA to crack down on piracy.

Under the new program, called “graduated response,” customers found to be illegally downloading copyrighted material will first receive one or two notifications from their ISPs, essentially stating that they have been caught. If the illegal downloads continue, subscribers will receive a new notice requesting acknowledgement that the notice has been received. Subsequent offenses can then result in bandwidth throttling and even service suspension

The RIAA and its counterparts,including fellow media giant, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had managed to forge the deal between major ISPS and the RIAA and the MPAA through in a highly secretive meeting last June–with the apparent support of the White House.

While undoubtedly piracy has cost media giants money, just how much it has cost is increasingly called into question. Figures provided by MPAA/RIAA lobbyists to Congress turn out to have been provided by the highly conservative lobbying group The Cato Institute– which was unable to provide any reliable or exact source or provenance for its figures.

An Uphill Battle

This is merely one more development in a long war between the tech sector in Silicon Valley and the media industry. After the White House and state and federal lawmakers showed support for the industry, leaders at the RIAA and MPAA believed they had the momentum to get antipiracy legislation passed in Congress.

They were wrong of course and the MPAA/RIAA have faced an uphill battle: The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) were run off the rails in Congress, largely by the tech sector. A similar motion, the ACTA treaty, though passed in the EU parliament, now faces an ever-shrinking chance of confirmation as signatory nations begin to have second thoughts-as well as a growing spate of legal challenges.

Furthermore some studies show the closure of Megaupload and similar measures have had no impact on piracy, however, so organizations like the RIAA have been lobbying for ISPs to intervene and develop systems that will allow them to police their networks and directly address subscribers who illegally download copyrighted content.

This may be easier said than done: Sherman has conceded that setting up these monitoring systems and their required infrastructure will be a tall order: Each ISP will have to develop and maintain their own system and its required infrastructure and nobody can predict how effective each will actually be. There are concerns now that innocent parties might be erroneously punished for innocuously transferring personal files or large business files, which often require a lot of bandwith. “Some are nearing completion and others are a little further from completion,” Sherman said of the new monitoring systems.

Analysts will be watching how Silicon Valley responds, especially once users accused of piracy suddenly find themselves without internet access. Some speculate that the tech sector may begin offering competing ISP services in response. Civil libertarians, and privacy rights advocates, wary in the wake of SOPA and PIPA, remember MPAA/RIAA demands in 2010 for the Department of Homeland Security to actually step in in cases of suspected piracy. While not that draconian, this new initiative is still certain to be challenged in court. Krypton Radio willl kep you updated on this story.

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