Corporate policing of the Internet begins today
The new Copyright Alert System(CAS), often referred to as the “six strikes anti-piracy scheme” due to its gradual increase of warnings and punishments, kicks off today.
Media giants and their lobbyists were dealt a crushing defeat when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was shelved due to overwhelming Internet activism opposing it. Realizing that they can’t get a law passed that would throw file sharers in jail, the conglomerates decided to create their own punishment scheme to deal with so-called information pirates.
All of the big five Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in America; Comcast, AT&T, Cablevision, Time Warner, and Verizon are reportedly participating.
The automated system basically works like this: if a file sharer is suspected of infringing activity, they’ll receive gradual alerts and warnings from the system, then punishments will range from forced re-education to reduced Internet speeds by the ISPs.
The Internet freedom and privacy organization, Electronic Frontier Foundation, calls the system a “copyright surveillance machine” and warns that this system will all but destroy public, or open, WIFI networks which should be protected for the public good.
The benefits of open wireless should be available in all spaces—commercial, residential, and public. Having ubiquitous access to the Internet through shared connections protects privacy, promotes innovation, and serves the public good.
Yet the copyright surveillance machine operates by sending users alerts that directly undermine this laudable goal. For example, the CAS process purportedly begins by warning users to ensure their “wireless connection is password protected.” The message this send to supporters of open wireless is obvious: Big Content and major ISPs are working together to stifle the movement just as it is gaining real legs around the United States.
EFF’s point that “Big Content” producers and major ISPs are working together on this cannot be taken lightly. It’s noteworthy that Time Warner and Comcast are not only ISP giants but also content providers themselves.
Although being cut off completely from Internet or going to jail for suspected piracy is not part of this scheme, EFF says the punishment is still far too harsh:
The program still uses “protecting copyright” as an excuse to seriously hinder a user’s online experience. For example, CAS involves not just “education” but also “Mitigation Measures,” such as slowing down Internet speeds to 256 kbps for days—rendering your connection all but unusable in today’s era of videochats and Netflix.
EFF claims we have a simple choice, either we have a few entrenched content companies prosecuting copyright infringement via this automated system or we have and open, well-functioning Internet infrastructure — but we can’t have both.
Many Internet users will find open networks to use or VPNs (virtual private networks) that disguise IP addresses like Hide My Ass in order to bypass the copyright surveillance machine.
Yet, whenever there are huge corporate conglomerates colluding to punish a certain online activity without oversight or accountability, we can expect many abuses to occur. Ultimately, this collusion is dangerous especially considering these five ISPs have a stranglehold over Internet access in the United States. Comcast has a whopping 20% of the market share of ISPs by itself.
A We The People petition to stop the CAS has been started and needs 100,000 signatures by March 25th, 2013 to get a response from the White House. Click Here to sign that petition.