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Movie Studios Want ISPs to Cut Australian Cords

October 8, 2009

As a guy who works in the entertainment business, I am hardly the “music should be free” type.  However, the major music and movie companies of the world are advancing some concepts for protecting intellectual property that are downright scary.  Chief among them is the deputizing of Internet Service Providers to police and prosecute file sharing.

The idea of ISPs serving as copyright police is not new.  For the last several years, FranceIreland, the UK and even the United States have contemplated plans to require ISPs to suspend and/or terminate Internet service for individuals who are suspected file sharers.  Recently, even pop-rocker Lily Allen found herself in the fray when she spoke up in favor of such a policy in the UK (and then later softened her approach).

Australia, however, was the first country to actually set such a policy into motion.  In 2004, it enacted a law that requires ISPs to “reasonably implement” a process for disconnecting suspected repeat infringers.  Australia’s second-largest ISP was sued by the major film studios for refusing to cut off users’ Internet access after the film studios notified them of infringements.

There are several major problems with the entire concept.  First among them is the idea that private investigators are monitoring our Internet activities and snooping out evil-doers.  Granted, we have all come to accept that the benefits of ubiquitous knowledge and unlimited connectedness the Internet provides are counterbalanced with significantly diminished privacy and anonymity.  By getting the world, we give up a lot of ourselves.  However, there are some wholesale invasions that no one should be willing to accept.

If I post vacation pictures on Facebook, I can live with the fact that people will see my fat gut on the beach.  When I buy a political book from Amazon, I expect to be terrified by the book suggestions they later send me.  However, the thought of some shady character keeping track of everywhere I go online, collecting evidence against me even if I am doing nothing wrong, is too much to handle.

Consider it in a real-world context.  If you forget to close the blinds and walk past the window in your underwear, and your neighbor across the street sees you, that’s your fault.  However, if your neighbor secretly puts a webcam in your bedroom, you’re probably going to kick his ass.

Another problem with this method of enforcing rights is that the ISP is not only playing the role of cop, it is also judge and jury.  An individual’s right to due process of law is gone.  While there is no Constitutional right that ensures our access to the Internet, who among us could live without it?  Even if it was reasonable for major media companies to spy on everyone on the planet, it is totally unreasonable to allow them to preempt the judicial process.  If they want to root out file sharers, let them collect their evidence and then subject it to judicial scrutiny, both for its substance and the methods in which it is collected.  The suspected infringer can then challenge that evidence and otherwise defend himself against the allegations.

The whole concept of pursuing individual infringers is, in itself, doomed to fail.  Let’s face it, there will always be people who want to share files and that is not necessarily bad thing.  Small scale file sharing is a form of word-of-mouth advertising.  Allow a little sharing and you might get a new fan to buy the next record, the next concert ticket or next t-shirt.  If you show her your scorn, you’ll piss her off and she’ll steal your music anyway.

One Comment
  1. Matt Shorr permalink*
    October 9, 2009 10:56 am

    Scary stuff, mostly because of the curtailment of due process. As you said, most of these people are “suspected” infringers. Let the case be made in court.

    At the very least, it seems our current administration and a large percentage of legislators support net neutrality, not that it won’t come under attack anyway. The telecom industry has a lot of money, and you see what huge infusions of cash have done to the health care discussion…

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