In this post I’m going to briefly note just how bad an idea it is, for citizens, that ISPs and content providers are working together to resolve ‘copyright infringement’ without having a substantial degree of government involvement.
Rules of the game
Perhaps you’re familiar with baseball (or California penal rules). In either case, you’ll have heard of the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule. In baseball, this would mean that a batter returns to the dugout, and another person attempts to swat a ball and race towards first base. In the penal system, it indicates that you’ve committed enough criminal offenses that you’re going to have the book thrown at you . . . the next person behind you in court can then try to argue why they’re innocent, and go free (first base?).
Throughout the Global North there are discussions on the table for introducing what are called ‘three-strikes’ rules that are designed to cut or, or hinder, people’s access to the Internet should they be caught infringing on copyright. In the EU, the big content cartel is trying to get ISPs to inspect consumer data flows and, when copywritten content is identified, ‘punish’ the individual in some fashion. Fortunately, it is looking that at least the EU Parliament is against imposing such rules on the basis that disconnecting individuals from the Internet would infringe on EU citizens’ basic rights. In an era where we are increasingly digitizing our records and basic communications infrastructure, it’s delightful to see a body in a major world power recognize the incredibly detrimental and over-reactionary behavior that the copyright cartel is calling for. Copyright infringement does not trump basic civil liberties.
Now, I expect that many readers would say something along this line: I don’t live in the EU, and the EU Parliament has incredibly limited powers. Who cares, this: (a) doesn’t affect me; (b) is unlikely to have a real impact on EU policy.
To fully function as a student in today’s Western democracies means having access access to the Internet. In some cases this means students use Content Management Systems (CMSs) such as Drupal, Blackboard, or wikis (to name a few examples) to submit homework and participate in collaborate group assignments. CMSs are great because teachers can monitor the effectiveness of student’s group contributions and retain timestamps of when the student has turned in their work. Thus, when Sally doesn’t turn in her homework for a few weeks, and ‘clearly’ isn’t working with her group in the school-sanctioned CMS, the teacher can call home and talk with Sally’s parents about Sally’s poor performance.
At least, that’s the theory.
Three-Strike Copyright and Some Numbers
I’m not going to spend time talking about the digital divide (save to note that it’s real, and it penalises students in underprivileged environments by preventing them from acting as an equal in the digitized classroom), nor am I going to talk about the inherent privacy and security issues that arise as soon as teacher use digital management systems. No, I want to turn our attention across the Atlantic to Britain, where the British parliament will soon be considering legislation that would implement a three-strike copyright enforcement policy. France is in the process of implementing a similar law (with the expectation that it will be in place by summer 2008), which will turn ISPs into data police. Under these policies if a user (read: household) is caught infringing on copyright three times (they get two warnings) they can lose access to the ‘net following the third infringement.
Last week I was a participant at the COUNTER: Counterfeit and Piracy Research Conference in Manchester, UK. I was invited to be part of a panel on deep packet inspection by Joseph Savirimuthu, as well as enjoy the conference more generally. It was, without a doubt, one of the best conferences that I have attended – it was thought-provoking and (at points) anger-inducing, good food and accommodations were provided, and excellent discussions were had. What I want to talk about are some of the resonating themes that coursed through the conference and try to situate a few of the positions and participants to give an insight into what was talked about.
The COUNTER project is a European research project exploring the consumption of counterfeit and pirated leisure goods. It has a series of primary research domains, including: (1) frequency and distribution of counterfeits; (2) consumer attitudes to counterfeit and pirated goods; (3) legal and ethical frameworks for intellectual property; (4) policy options for engaging with consumers of counterfeit; (5) the use of copyrighted goods for the creation of new cultural artifacts; (6) impacts of counterfeiting and control of intellectual property.