How Scary is the US “Six Strikes” Anti-Piracy Scheme?

The MPAA and RIAA, helped by all major Internet providers in the United States, will begin to warn and punish copyright infringers in the months to come. Those caught sharing copyright works will receive several warning messages and subsequent punishment if they continue to infringe. Today we provide an overview of the upcoming scheme, busting some of the scary myths floating around online, and confirming others.

casSoon, the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) will start to track down ‘pirates’ as part of an agreement all major U.S. Internet providers struck with the MPAA and RIAA.

The parties agreed on a system through which copyright infringers are warned that their behavior is unacceptable. After five or six warnings ISPs may then take a variety of repressive measures.

A lot has been written in the press about the upcoming scheme, but unfortunately there are still many myths and misunderstandings. Today we hope to clear up some of these inaccuracies by answering a few simple questions.

What punishments are expected?

After six warnings ISPs will impose so-called “mitigation measures” or punishments. The CCI made it clear from the start that nobody’s Internet account will be terminated. However, temporary disconnections are an option. In fact, the agreement between the copyright holders and ISPs specifically mentions the option of such temporary terminations.

This means that in theory subscribers could be disconnected for a week, or even a month. That said, such disconnections are not mandatory and ISPs have little incentive to impose such a strong mitigation measure.

A more likely punishment is a throttled connection, where connection speeds are severely degraded for a set period. The agreement specifically mentions 256 -640 kbps as an example. Alternatively, ISPs can direct users to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter.

What happens to those who ignore all warnings?

This is an interesting question. Public information provides no answer but the CCI told TorrentFreak the following:

“The program is intended to educate consumers, taking them through a system that we believe will be successful for most consumers. If a subscriber were to receive 6 alerts, that user would be considered a subscriber the program is unable to reach.”

“If ISPs receive additional allegations of copyright infringement for that user, those notices will not generate alerts under the program,” a CCI spokesperson told us.

In other words, nothing will happen under the program. People who receive more than 6 warnings are removed from the system. They wont receive any further warnings or punishments and are allowed to continue using their Internet service as usual.

Who will be monitoring these copyright infringements?

While ISPs take part in the scheme, they are not the ones who will monitor subscribers’ behaviors. The tracking will be done by a third party company such as DtecNet or PeerMedia. These companies collect IP-addresses from BitTorrent swarms and send their findings directly to the Internet providers.

The lists with infringing IP-addresses are not shared with the MPAA, RIAA or other third parties.

The CCI has not yet published the name of the monitoring company, but informs TorrentFreak that the evidence gathering methods will be reviewed by an independent expert.

Each ISP will keep a database of the alleged infringers and send these subscribers the appropriate warnings. Recorded infringements will be stored for 12 months after which they will be deleted.

What will be monitored?

According to the CCI the copyright alert system will only apply to P2P file-sharing. In theory this means that the focus will be almost exclusively on BitTorrent, as other P2P networks have a relatively low user bases.

Consequently, those who use Usenet providers or file-hosting services such as 4Shared, RapidShare and Hotfile are not at risk. In other words, the “six strikes” scheme only covers part of all online piracy.

Can the monitoring be circumvented?

The answer to the previous question already shows that users could simply switch to other means of downloading, but there are more alternatives.

BitTorrent users could hide their IP-addresses through proxy services and VPNs for example. A recent study in Sweden showed that this is a likely response to tougher copyright enforcement.

So how scary is the “six strikes” anti-piracy plan?

While we can’t say anything conclusive just yet, it appears that the main purpose is to reach as many copyright infringers as possible to inform them about their inappropriate behavior. The CCI frames this as education, others will probably describe it as scare tactics.

How ‘bad’ the “six strikes” scheme turns out to be largely depends on what punishments Internet providers intend to hand out. Needless to say, a temporary reduction in bandwidth is less severe than cutting people’s Internet access.

However, since ISPs have little incentive to apply such stringent measures we expect that the punishments will be rather mild.

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