More than 37,000 Americans struck out last year with the entertainment industry's new "six strikes" anti-piracy system, meaning their internet access was throttled or otherwise interrupted after they got six separate warnings for (allegedly) illegally downloading copyrighted content.
Barely anyone seemed to care, however.
The system, implemented in February 2013 to much ballyhoo, was deemed a success in a report released today by the system's creator, the Center for Copyright Information, a consortium made up of the RIAA, the MPAA, and five of the nation's largest ISPs.
The glowing report, which is pretty lacking in specifics, notes that, in its first 10 months, 1.3 million copyright infringement alerts were sent to 722,820 internet users around the country. The vast majority of them received just one alert; only 60,477 receiving five or more alerts, triggering the "mitigation" phase, in which bandwidth is throttled, "educational classes" about piracy are required, or certain sites are restricted.
It's hard to tell exactly what happened to those 60,477 people (and the 37,456 people who used all six of their strikes), because each ISP has different mitigation measures—but whatever they ended up being, they didn't seem to be worth fighting: Just 265 people actually asked to have their cases reviewed, and only 47 of those succeeded.
That's an extremely low number, considering that all it takes to file a defense is a $35 fee and a quick writeup of what happened. Completely cutting off internet service isn't one of the mitigation measures on the table, so most people seemed content to either take the "piracy classes," apologize, or use a temporarily throttled internet connection.
With Comcast, for instance, a "mitigation measure" simply meant you had to make a call to the company, as explained in the message below. To be fair, dealing with many ISPs is generally a hellish experience, and I bet a fair number of people didn't even read their messages at all.
About two thirds of the reviews that did happen came down to "unauthorized use of account" defenses, meaning the user suggested someone used their network without permission.
The report did not get into specifics about which ISPs were most likely to issue notices, but if we had to take a guess, it would seem that the vast majority of them are coming from Comcast, America's largest internet service provider. (It controls roughly one fifth of the broadband market.) A February report by TorrentFreak, which is usually on top of these sorts of stories, suggested that Comcast alone had sent out more than 625,000 anti-piracy warnings during the first year of the program.
Many have criticized the Six Strikes system—the Electronic Frontier Foundation has called it a "surveillance machine" and has said that it will "undoubtedly harm open wireless," because those hit by the system can only use the "I had an unprotected WiFi network" defense only once.
Obviously, the system isn't going to end piracy—if someone uses a VPN or an anonymizer like Tor, the Six Strikes program becomes completely useless. Given that there's a good 250 million or so internet users in the United States, the system targeted less than three tenths of a percent of them, and actually affected less than a ten thousandth of a percent of them, so it's not really clear how much this is actually doing to curb piracy.
It might be forcing people to learn a little more about anonymizing themselves online (which is a good thing to know how to do anyway) pushing them toward watching Netflix, HBO Go, and Hulu, or listening to Spotify, instead of bothering with BitTorrent anymore.
In any case, if you pirate content and weren't caught, you might not be so lucky this year. The center says it has officially ended its "ramp up phase" and that it expects to "at least double" the amount of notices that it sends out this year, so you can look forward to that.