The deals between ISPs and anti-piracy organizations are a worrying trend. In just a few months entertainment industry representatives managed to convince ISPs and governments that they should have the right to accuse and warn Internet subscribers, without solid proof. The question that remains unanswered is whether these warnings will have any effect.
The power of the entertainment industry and anti-piracy lobbyists is growing rapidly. In the UK, six major ISPs have teamed up with the music industry to start mass warning filesharers. France has gone even further, recently adopting a law that will enable the entertainment industry to disconnect alleged pirates on their third warning. Similar methods are proposed throughout the rest of the world.
It’s quite scary if you think about it. In France the right to access the Internet now rests on the shoddy evidence of anti-piracy units, evidence that is known to be inaccurate. Christine Albanel, the French Minister for Culture recently quoted research that allegedly found that 97% of all file-sharers will stop downloading copyrighted content when they receive a warning, but this seems to be very unlikely.
Unfortunately, the minister failed to name the resource for the study, but it does raise some interesting questions. All these new agreements and policies have strong faith in the deterrent function of these so called warnings, but thus far there is no evidence that these actually have any effect. That’s right, millions of people are now receiving warnings (sometimes even threats), and they may very well lead to nothing.
You would think that the government would at least get some solid proof of the deterrent effect of these letters but, perhaps even more importantly, check the validity of the anti-piracy evidence before they allow the entertainment industry to start contacting millions of citizens with intimidating letters. It might turn out that thousands of users receive a letter for something they didn’t do, and that wouldn’t be the first time that had happened. On the other hand, even those who are correctly accused might not change their behavior so easily.
Warning letters will most likely make most pirates more cautious, and they will find ways to get what they want more anonymously. Whatever happens, it wont stop the most of them from getting what they want. As Justin Milne of Telstra BigPond, Australia’s largest Internet provider put it: “There’s no one thing that you can do that is going to fix the problem (but) when people think about this area, they often look to ISPs to provide the silver bullet.”
So how can “pirates” be stopped then? This is not an easy question to answer. Right now, 50% of all BitTorrent traffic is generated by people who download TV-episodes, something that’s available for free in most countries, but not available on demand. It might be a good start for the entertainment industry to rethink their outdated business models, experiment and use peer-to-peer technology to fulfill the ever growing demand for media online.