What Are You Going to Do with Your Anti-Piracy Six Strikes?

Now you BitTorrent users will receive six "strikes" before your internet provider can punish you.

Feb 25 2013, 5:23pm

Three strikes laws are one of the strangest facets of the American legal system: Sure, baseball is America's pastime, but to base criminal proceedings on the made-up rules of a children's game? Wacky stuff, in abstract. But new anti-piracy measures enacted today take that wackiness to a new level. Now you BitTorrent users will receive six "strikes" before your internet provider can punish you.

The plan is from the RIAA and MPAA, our favorite piracy fearmongers, who joined a quintet of ISPs to form the Center for Copyright Information. CCI is tasked with doling out the strikes to users, which come in the form of "copyright alerts," which are basically notifications that someone on your network downloaded or shared copyrighted material. After you receive "multiple" alerts–five? six? who knows–your ISP will be authorized to take actions that will "that will temporarily affect your Internet experience." 

Vague language aside, those actions include throttling your speed, downgrading your service tier temporarily, or complete blocking your service altogether by redirecting you "to a landing page for a set period of time, until you contact your ISP, or until you complete an online copyright education program."

Now, the system isn't structured as well as it could be. I don't have a problem with the RIAA and MPAA sending out copyright alerts to people, as in some cases people don't even realize folks are using their network to pirate content. But the parameters are vague: There's no explanation of what "multiple" means–six strikes seems to be the consensus, although AT&T has authorized legal action by copyright owners after five–and no one seems to know exactly what actions will be taken by ISPs. The ISPs haven't said anything definitively, and the CCI told TorrentFreak that it doesn't have a clue.

There's also the usual issues with such monitoring practices: It's not going to stop serious pirates, who can easily hide their IP addresses and/or use alternate methods to BitTorrent for downloading content, and tracking IP addresses alone doesn't guarantee that the ISP customer is the one downloading. (There is an independent arbitration process in place if you've been wrongly dealt with, but we'll see how that shakes out in a few months.) There's one scenario where alerts could then be useful: Someone doesn't realize their neighbor is using their unsecure network to pirate stuff, or something similar.

But the new system also requires ISPs to notify copyright holders when IP addresses are repeatedly flagged, which raises the concern that it's a workaround for copyright holders to collect data for legal action, despite the fallibility of trying to connect IP addresses to customers. The CCI mandate doesn't set up framework for legal action on its own, however.

In any case, it appears that if you're on one of the major ISPs–which you most likely are, considering how little competition there is in the ISP game–you've got four or five more torrents to download before you get throttled. What's it going to be? The 311 discography? The entire NOW! series? I don't encourage piracy, but hey, there does seem to be a pretty easy workaround: If you've only got a few strikes, perhaps torrents just need to become bigger.