Five of the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the U.S., Verizon, Cablevision, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Comcast, have partnered with The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to create a new group called the Center for Copyright Information (CCI). And the purpose of the Center for Copyright Information is to fight online piracy both by monitoring what consumers are viewing while online and by discouraging consumers from illegally downloading videos, music and other files from the web via their new “Copyright Alert System” and their new Six Strikes procedure. Under this new system each time an Internet user downloads an illegal file (i.e. song, document or video) the CCI will send a pop up message to the offending consumer’s browser informing them that they have violated the terms of usage service of their ISP by illegally downloading a file (i.e. video, document of MP3). And after the CCI determines an Internet user has downloaded six illegal files they will slow that individuals Internet speed or cut off that consumers Internet service.
So in essence if your Internet Service Provider is one of the aforementioned ISPs than the Center for Copyright Information will shortly be monitoring what you do online, which websites you go to and what material you download.
Now I understand that our modern technology is changing very, very fast and that as a result Internet Service Providers and traditional media companies and organizations like the MPAA and the RIAA are struggling to make a profit in the digital marketplace as the evolution of technology is increasingly changing the way consumers’ access information and media items. We are indeed in a transitional era as consumer demand for physical media materials (i.e. print books, CDS & DVDs) decreases and consumer demand for digital materials that they can access via their Internet connecting smartphones, tablets and computers (i.e. e-books, digital music and streaming and/or digitally downloaded television shows and movies), increases.
And I also understand that digital piracy is a major concern to both the Motion Picture Association of American and the Recording Industry Association of America*. However, I have four major beefs with the way this new organization, the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), is attempting to curtail piracy:
1. The Process The CCI Uses To Try And Curtail Piracy: The very process the CCI uses to gather information to assist them in curtaining piracy is unethical. A partnership between two of the largest media companies in the United States (The MPAA & The RIAA) and the five largest Internet Service Providers in the U.S. has the Internet Service Providers spying on their customers to see what they are doing while they are online. And this new spying procedure is an invasion of personal privacy – it is no one else’s business which websites you visit while you’re online and whether or not you download a cranberry muffin recipe from a cooking site or rent an Amazon video to watch on your iPad. And I certainly don’t want my ISP noting, or keeping, any information they gather while I’m online and logged into my banking website site – and I don’t think it is the CCI’s business either what songs, e-books or videos I buy from iTunes or Amazon to legally watch, read or listen to.
2. Intellectual Freedom & The Possibility of Censorship: This new “Six Strikes” procedure that the CCI has enacted is a threat to intellectual freedom. Intellectual Freedom is defined by the American Library Association as “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored;” and the CCI’s new policing procedure is a threat to intellectual freedom because one of the first steps a company, individual or group of people can take to censor content is to track what content people are looking at whether that content is a printed book that some people think should be banned, a website that some people find objectionable and believe that no one should have access too or a movie that features material that is controversial.
Now granted, in theory The Center for Copyright Information isn’t indicating that they want to stop consumers from viewing or accessing content on any website; however, watching what people access while they are online is a large step down the censorship road because you can’t object to what content people access online if you don’t know what specific websites they are visiting or what specific items and formats they are downloading while they are online.
3. The Center for Copyright Information (CCI) Isn’t A Government Agency: The CCI is not a government agency and there isn’t a law on the books that says that they have the right, via their Copyright Alert System, to keep track of what information people are accessing online.
In fact – and granted I’m a librarian and not a legal expert – however, the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights states that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” – and if the government doesn’t have the right to in any way infringe on the freedom of press and the corresponding right of U.S. citizens to access any information in printed or digital form than the CCI certainly doesn’t have that right either. And as I said previously the CCI hasn’t said they intend to censor any website or material that consumers want to access or view online – but policing the Internet to keep track of what websites consumers are visiting and what digital material they are accessing online that is indeed the first step towards censorship.
4. Conflict of Interest: I must admit I find it difficult to believe that individual consumers will have an easy time being heard by the CCI & their specific ISPs if, as is unavoidable, there is a glitch in the system and they download a video or music file legally and the CCI says that legal download is a violation of their terms of service and is illegal. Further, the conflict of interest I see is in Internet Service Providers, who are cable TV providers too, being able to potentially make it difficult for consumers to buy television shows, movies and music from online media giants – like Amazon and iTunes. Imagine someone who ditched their expensive cable package from Comcast and who now buys and downloads or streams their favorite television shows, movies and music from Amazon and iTunes. Those consumers are spending money for content sold by Amazon, iTunes and via a streaming subscription – Netflix. And wouldn’t the major Internet Service Providers who also sell cable TV packages like to get that money back in their hands! So what is to stop the CCI from making it difficult for consumers to legally download e-content from online vendors to try and push those consumers into signing up for a new cable TV package with them instead of buying digital content form Amazon, iTunes or Netflix?
I see a major conflict of interest in this new partnership between Internet Service Providers and the MPAA & RIAA and I think this new Copyright Alert System is certainly a subject to be aware of as it is another case where powerful traditional media companies, with outdated business models (which is a whole other blog posting), try desperately to hang on to their profit margin and the status quo and risk trampling on the rights of consumers in the process.
And not surprisingly there were a number of news stories on the subject of the formation of the new Center for Copyright Information organization and their new Six Strikes rule this past week.
Here’s one from the Ars Technica site titled Here’s what an actual “six strikes” copyright alert looks like – that offers photos of five of Comcast’s Six Strike messages:
And here’s another article and podcast from NPR, titled Piracy alert System Raises Concerns About Fair Use, Misidentification, that has NPR host Audie Cornish Interviewing James Grimmelmann, Professor of Law at New York Law School, on the subject:
Here’s a link to the official National Archives Bill of Rights page:
And also a link to the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Q&A page:
Have a great day!
* Not to mention publishers! If you own an e-ink e-reader (one of the ones that displays black text on a gray screen) and wonder why the library e-book check out process is a complex one when it only takes a couple of taps on your touch screen e-reader to buy an e-book from Barnes & Noble or Amazon…And if you wonder why some bestselling e-books aren’t available in the STLS Digital Catalog – you can actually take all of that up with the six largest publishers in the U.S. who make the library e-book check out process cumbersome and/or refuse to sell e-books to public libraries for their virtual catalogs. The Big Six publishers are seeing their business models change too in this new digital age and they too, like the MPAA, the RIA and Internet Service Providers are struggling to adapt to the new digital marketplace and landscape.
Bill of Rights. National Archives. Online.
Cornish, Audie. (2013, February 27). Piracy Alert System Raises Concerns About Fair Use, Misidentification. NPR: All Things Considered. Onlne.
Farviar, Cyrus. (2013, February 27). Here’s what an actual “six strikes” copyright alert looks like. Ars Technica. Online.
Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A: What is Intellectual Freedom? American Library Association. Online. Accessed March 3, 2013.