Next month the file-sharing habits of millions of BitTorrent users in the United States will be monitored as part of an agreement between the MPAA, RIAA, and all the major ISPs. To guarantee the accuracy of the evidence that will be used for the accusations the parties agreed to hire an impartial and independent technology expert. However, their commitment to this promise is now in doubt as the hired experts have turned out to be a former RIAA lobbying group.
In an effort to curb online piracy, the MPAA and RIAA teamed up with five major Internet providers in the United States to launch the Center for Copyright Information (CCI).
The parties agreed on a system through which subscribers are warned that their alleged copyright infringements are unacceptable. Starting next month, ISPs can then take a variety of repressive measures to punish the alleged infringers.
The evidence for these allegations will be collected by an external company, MarkMonitor. Because tracking companies have made false allegations in the past, the CCI agreed to hire an “independent and impartial technical expert” to review the “accuracy and security” of the technology used.
This requirement for an impartial expert review was set in stone in the Memorandum of Understanding, and from an announcement last week the CCI appeared to have kept its word.
“We’ve worked hard to set up a program that is accurate, fair and protects consumer interests at every step in the process. For example, we retained a recognized technology expert, Stroz Friedberg, to evaluate the content community’s system (run by MarkMonitor) for identifying alleged infringement over peer-to-peer networks.”
“Stroz Friedberg has completed its initial review of MarkMonitor’s methodologies and found that the system is accurate and works properly,” the CCI concluded.
While this may sound like good news, it is actually quite a shocker considering the history of the company retained to safeguard the accuracy of “six-strikes” scheme.
Stroz Friedberg is indeed a technology expert, but the group was also the RIAA’s lobbying firm for half a decade.
Between 2004 and 2009 Stroz Friedberg lobbied extensively in Washington on behalf of the RIAA. This consulting job earned the company more than half a million dollars ($637,000).
One of the leading lobbyists on record was Executive Managing Director Beryl Howell, who lobbied U.S. Congress and Senate for copyright laws regarding digital music.
Howell’s anti-piracy past hit the headlines in 2011 since she is currently a federal judge ruling on mass-BitTorrent lawsuits. In this position she continues to protect the interests of copyright holders, and in a recent ruling she pointed out that ISPs are not doing enough to stop copyright infringements.
While Stroz Friedberg may be excellent at what they do, it is hard to see the company as “independent and impartial” as the Memorandum of Understanding requires.
Given the skepticism and sensitivities of the public regarding the “six-strikes” anti-piracy scheme, the appointment is rather unfortunate and quite unbelievable.
This sentiment is shared by University of Idaho Law Professor Annemarie Bridy, who previously concluded that the copyright alert system lacks transparency and favors copyright holders.
“It’s a disappointing choice, particularly in light of CCI’s professed desire to build public confidence in CAS and the fairness of its processes. It would have been refreshing to see an academic computer scientist or some other truly independent party appointed to fill that important role,” Bridy tells TorrentFreak.
“CCI’s choice of a former RIAA lobbying firm makes it clear that the copyright owner parties to the Memorandum of Understanding were more interested in appointing someone they trust than in appointing someone the public can trust,” she adds.
Why CCI did not pick a more neutral party as a technology expert will remain a mystery for now. Choosing to shroud itself in secrecy, the group has stopped responding to our inquiries entirely.