Anti-Piracy Chief Patents “Pay Up or Disconnect” Scheme

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One of the top executives of the US-based anti-piracy outfit Digital Rights Corp has submitted a patent application that promises to turn piracy into profit. The patent describes a system where Internet users caught downloading will receive a notice from their Internet provider along with a request to pay a small fee to the affected copyright holder. Pirates who refuse to pay risk the ultimate punishment of being disconnected from the Internet.

There are many ways copyright holders approach the “online piracy” problem. Some copyright holders prefer to do it through innovation, others prefer educational messages, warnings or even lawsuits. Another group is aiming for lots of small cash settlements.

Digital Rights Corp is one of the companies that facilitates these settlement demands. The company scours BitTorrent networks for people who download titles owned by the copyright holders they work with, and then approaches these alleged pirates via their Internet providers.

The company usually asks for $10 or $20 per infringed title, and conceals these demands in DMCA notices so they can bypass the courts. Under the DMCA Internet providers are obliged to forward copyright infringement notices to their customers, so Digital Rights Corp can contact the alleged pirates without knowing who they are.

A clever system, and one that’s at the base of a new patent filed by Digital Right Corp’s CTO Robert Steele.

The patent starts with a general description of the monitoring and notification process.

“The present disclosure provides a system, a method, and a computer program that may mine a data stream of infringement data over a period of time, process the mined data to find correlations in the data, and identify specific sets of IP addresses and ports associated with acts of copyright infringement,” it reads.

Once the IP-addresses are obtained the account holder’s ISP is contacted, as can be seen in the figure below.

Identifying infringers and notifying ISPs

The above process is similar those already employed by a wide variety of anti-piracy outfits, and also identical to the technology that will be used for the upcoming “six-strikes” system in the U.S. However, the patent goes further than just tracking down alleged copyright infringers. It also allows for settlement demands.

“The system, method, and computer program may be further configured to provide a settlement offer that may be accepted to resolve obligations incurred as a result of an identified act of copyright infringement.”

The patent further describes how Internet providers could respond to repeated infringements, provided they’re willing to participate. This includes redirecting people’s Internet connection to a settlement landing page, or disconnecting the account altogether.

“The actions may include, e.g., sending a subsequent infringement notice, redirecting the infringer to a redirect webpage, or suspending service to the infringer,” the patent explains, again illustrated with a nice flow-chart.

Steps after ISP is first notified

While Digital Rights Corp is not the first to use this kind of system, they are the first to apply for a patent this specific. Although we’re not sure of their intentions should the application be granted, this could spell trouble for many competing anti-piracy groups.

Put differently, could this be a case of copyright trolls trying to troll copyright trolls?

Also, since the first part of the patent more or less describes how the technology behind the six-strikes scheme works, it could potentially cause trouble for the system the MPAA, RIAA and ISPs have worked on for so long.

For the public, even those who are frequent copyright infringers, not much will change. Digital Rights Corp and others are already sending out these settlement requests, but Internet providers will never voluntarily agree to disconnect their subscribers.


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