Ambiguity will lead to the innocent suffering alongside the guilty, argues report

TIME magazine's Matt Peckham has offered up a compelling argument on why the upcoming "six strikes" plan is fundamentally flawed.  "Six Strikes" is the term bandied about for the voluntary collaboration by internet service providers (ISPs) and big media groups like the Motion Picture Association of America to "educate" users on the "dangers" of piracy.

The proposal -- unlike past efforts like the failed SOPA -- does not involve the government.  And it does not involve internet "capital punishment" -- termination of paying customers.  But if customers are found pirating by MarkMonitor -- the group contracted by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) to filter ISP traffic looking for P2P streams with infringed IP -- ISPs will be liable to either slow users connections or force them to take "classes" to regain access to the connection.

The move is a win for ISPs; they'll likely be able to provide a lesser degree of service to many of their customers while claiming it's in the noble name of "intellectual property protection".  Reduced service means less bandwidth and data consumed, which in turn means cost savings, which in turn means more profit.

And big media is clinging to the notion that if it can just get some habitual pirates to abandon their foul ways, they'll instead turn to legally buying all sorts of content, triggering a golden age of media profits.

Of course there's little signs of that being the case -- pirates actually tend to already be the biggest buyers of legal content, so it seems relatively unlikely they'll buy more if forced to forgo their pirating.

Piracy Warning
Piracy warnings might sound good on paper, but a major issue is how to track the true offenders and who should be forced to pay for that tracking.

What's more, Mr. Peckham poses an intriguing scenario of why the current IPv4 based plan in simply too dumb to work.  He comments:

My condo complex (I'm an owner) has 48 units. It was built in 2003, so it's relatively new. At the time, the builders had the foresight to wire each unit with Ethernet — a drop in each room, everything connected back to aggregate wire closets. Near my front door (and all the front doors of all the units) is a mini-wire closet with a switch/hub that connects my unit to a central switch/hub in a locked room on the property.

That, in turn, plugs into a high-speed cable modem — a cable modem that's shared across all 48 units. We're technically shielded from each other using a special box that "firewalls" each private IP and can control how much bandwidth it's allocated, etc. Whether we elect to use it or pay for our own service instead, all 48 units have access to this shared Internet.

He argues that for business owners or owners of residential units (like himself), the plan will create a nightmarish scenario of new costs and enforcement responsibilities, in which ultimately the innocent may suffer along with the guilty.  He writes:
You can probably see where I'm headed. With "six strikes," any of the residents in the complex who — knowingly or unknowingly — engage in an act of copyright violation, could incur an alert. Who's going to see that alert? Probably me, as the technical contact for the ISP (that or our property management company, at which point it'll route back to me).

At this point I'm not sure what happens. The IP address MarkMonitor's software is going to see, presumably, is our public one, not the private address of the device that's been singled out on our condo complex's network. How do we identify the perpetrator? Should we identify the perpetrator? If our ISP says we're in violation, is it incumbent on us to run our own tracking software, somehow, to identify the person(s) involved? Are we supposed to somehow issue these warnings ourselves, since the ISP won't technically be able to?

See the problem? Who's responsible for each infraction? Who should be punished? The entire complex, by throttling or at some point terminating our Internet service? Each unit in the complex pays for shared Internet equally as part of our monthly association fees. We're not a business — there's no CEO. The few of us who manage the Internet on behalf of the rest can't act unilaterally to preempt potential infractions by blocking aspects of the service by introducing content filters the way a private company might.

He also takes the ISP/media union to task for failing to transparently disclose full details of the plan and how it will work.  He says the collaborators decision to force consumers to "reverse-engineer" their rights is a big "transparency issue".

The plan, as he points out, has been temporarily delayed by the CCI as the power outages from Hurricane Sandy set back the MarkMonitor's testing of the scheme on trial partner networks.

You're out
Hurricane Sandy temporarily delayed the "six-strikes" plan. [Image Source: Ed Zurga/AP]

But as the delayed system moves forward to rolling out in weeks to come, one has to wonder how many scenarios like the one Mr. Peckham laid out might occur.  If they do, the wrath will likely largely be shouldered by the ISP, and they may find themselves losing paying customers.

And when things reach that point one has to wonder whether the fragile union between the content hording big media and the service providers will be capable of surviving the financial friction.

Source: CNN

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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