The Copyright Police Are Coming!

Category: File-Sharing

The online theft of copyrighted movies and music is an ever-growing problem, according to movie and music industry moguls. Their latest effort to curb piracy recruits some of the largest ISPs in the world. Read on to learn how the copyright police are watching, and what might happen if you're caught illegally downloading from file-sharing sites...

What is The Copyright Alert System?

The Copyright Alert System is a framework for detecting illegal file sharing, educating the offenders, and encouraging them to stop stealing copyrighted materials. The system results from negotiations between internet service providers (ISPs) and content industry associations that have dragged on since 2008. Here is how it will work, essentially:

Contractors for the RIAA and MPAA will patrol peer-to-peer networks, looking for illegally shared copies of content copyrighted by the trade associations' members. When an illegal file is detected, the IP addresses of the sharing pirates will be taken down, along with other information about the incident. That information will be shared with the ISPs which control the offenders' IP addresses.
Copyright Police

The ISPs will use the information received from the copyright police to determine which customers were using the IP addresses at the time of the incident. Those customers will then receive warnings ("alerts") from their ISPs to the effect that illegal activity has been associated with their accounts and it had better stop immediately. The alerts will include resources to educate the customers on copyright, infringement, and how to avoid further trouble.

If another complaint involving a given IP address is received, a second alert goes out. A third complaint escalates matters; the customer must acknowledge receipt of the third and fourth alerts. Fifth and sixth complaints may incur "mitigation measures," which are not well defined under the new framework.

Mitigation could include throttling of a customer's Internet speed or re-direction of all Web requests to a page about copyright infringement until the customer contacts the ISP to discuss the matter. The one thing mitigation will not include, swear the ISPs involved, is termination of Internet service.

The alert system seems to be a genuine attempt to educate customers who mistakenly think it's OK to "share" music and movies, or who are unaware that unsecured WiFi networks can be used to steal copyrighted material, or who think their children can be trusted. It certainly isn't designed to crack down on hardcore file-sharing pirates.

I Was Framed, Honest!

As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, there are situations where illegal downloading can occur without the account owner being aware. So the system allows a customer to request "independent" review and arbitration before any mitigation measures are put into effect. However, it will cost you $35 for such a review. A customer might pay for a review to argue that a mistake was made and no illegal activity occurred, or that someone else did the illegal deed without the customer's knowledge or consent.

What happens if you ignore all of your ISP's alerts? That is not specified, but presumably you will soon hear from the attorneys of the RIAA and/or MPAA. Trust me, you do not want to get a letter or phone call from these guys. See my earlier article File Sharing Student Fined $675K for details on that.

Despite the kid gloves approach of the Copyright Alert System, some online libertarians are concerned about its unprecedented formal cooperation between copyright holders and ISPs. It may be only "alerts" now, the say, but that opens the door to actual shutdowns of customers' Internet accounts in the future. They may be right.

It is in an ISP's best interest to have a "termination policy" in place for dealing with "repeat infringers," according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA makes such a policy a requirement for taking advantage of the Act's "safe harbor" immunity from liability for customers' infringement. In other words, if an ISP does not want to be sued for enabling a customer's infringement, it had better be prepared to terminate the accounts of proven repeat infringers.

I know there are plenty of people who argue that online sharing of copyrighted music and movies is no big deal, that it's okay because the music industry is evil, or that you can't steal something that exists in digital form. Personally, I disagree. I will happily pay for good online content that someone has worked hard to create.

Your thoughts are welcome on this topic. Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "The Copyright Police Are Coming!"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Jim Clary
08 Sep 2011

Good information, Bob. I really enjoy your site. I have been a subsciber for a long time.


Posted by:

Andrea
08 Sep 2011

I think we should pay for original content. Most people are willing to pay for original content; but not willing to pay the prices, the large price tags, associated with lots of material. I am willing to purchase movies and music. I usually purchase second hand if possible.
However, there are lots of folks charging for non-original stuff. If it is not original; maybe you should not be charging for it! If it gets stolen and you stole well not expect a payment. Changing a few words does not make it original. All information should be reference and most work is not referenced on the internet.


Posted by:

joanne haney
09 Sep 2011

To me it is clear. I dont need a brick to fall on me. If I copy without permission I am stealing. I am not only stealing from the artists but also from the producers etc, etc. I know that people who copy dont think its wrong and I have even had people get mad at me when I pointed this out. So go ahead and break the law as for me I wont copy and I wont accept anything that is copied. Also, if I want to copy and cant get authorization than I dont go ahead and copy it.


Posted by:

Jude
09 Sep 2011

I think what they are trying to do is right. I understand why people download these things too. Movies and cds are real expensive. This could stop the internet problem for them but not stop it totally when it comes to movies and music. With music channels and movie channels on tv and recorders that can record from tv it will continue but only a little slower. I don't think they can stop it completely without installing software of some sort in electronics that can stop it by needing a code to download those formats.


Posted by:

Matthew
09 Sep 2011

Well, here's a bit of abuse, or a scam in the making:

"However, it will cost you $35 for such a review."

Get falsely accused, but you have to pay $35 to heard as an individule? Right.... I wonder how long that will go on before someone gets sued?


Posted by:

Sue
09 Sep 2011

I am an author with 6 published books to my credit, so I feel that I have some right to speak to this issue. When I purchase a physical book or DVD, I can share it with my friends, my kids, and my siblings. I am unlikely to share it with strangers. I think digital media should be available to share with people we know. And what about being able to borrow things from libraries? The digital rights legislation is cutting the heart out of libraries, much to the detriment of our culture.

I do not think content should be shared willy-nilly with strangers over the Internet. Authors/artists have worked hard to produce that content, and the publishers pay them a pittance as it is. I don't want to rob them of the little they earn for their efforts. Frankly, I think the publishers rip off the public, and if someone shares media with a friend, a sibling or a kid--or a library lends to a patron--I think it should be legitimate. As for wholesale downloading of media, it's against the law, just as making photocopies of books is.


Posted by:

Steve Wall
09 Sep 2011

Ignorance is no defense, and most everyone has heard of, and understands the concept of copyright. If you were the creator of something, you would not be pleased loosing income from the thief of your product. I personally think the thief should loose his ISP service and all computers he owns on the first offense. Upon the second offense, throw him/her in jail. Then maybe the message will get through.


Posted by:

Tony, Johannesburg
09 Sep 2011

Downloading music or films is the same as shoplifting a hard copy.
Just because "everybody does it" does not alter the fact that it is theft and it should be treated as such without going through all the rigmarole detailed above; the first instance discovered that someone is downloading material should result in prosecution as well as for the person who allowed the file to be shared. In the latter case, separate charges should be brought for each and every instance of multiple people downloading the file. If users use the excuse that the music or film companies are making too much profit, then exercise your democratic right and don't buy the product.


Posted by:

John Mood
09 Sep 2011

I don't see any problem with this relationship with RIAA and ISP's, but then I *DON'T EVER* file share or swap music or films on the Internet. Everything you do gets recorded some where anyhow, and if you're stupid enough to get caught with your digital pants down, woe is you.

I liken it to neighbors seeing unusual possibly illegal activities in their neighborhood and asking the police to check on it. If you've done no wrong you needn't fear the police. But DO lock down your wireless router, it's too easy to wardrive... If you don't, it could bite you on the butt and cost you dearly!


Posted by:

Barbara
09 Sep 2011

I am a 73 soon to be 74 year old woman who do does not understand 99.99% of today's technology. Not sure what is legal and what is not. Is it legal to "save to watch later" etc music, videos off YouTube. I am mostly deaf and can only hear a bit of the oldies on my head sets so have done this a few times. Don't want to steal or get into trouble. Have no idea what HTML tags are either so hope this gets where it is supposed to. And hope I get to read the answer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The "save to watch later" option on Youtube is just a way of bookmarking a video so you can find it later. It doesn't download the video to your computer, and there's nothing to be concerned about, from a legal standpoint.


Posted by:

Pete
09 Sep 2011

Hi Bob,

This whole subject of copyright is a very grey area with so many variables as to make it nigh on impossible to know whether something (anything) you are doing is or isn't "illegal". I don't even think governments who are pushing for new legislation at the behest of record/film companies etc fully understand the depths of the problems faced with trying to manage/police this.

Ever since the audio tape was introduced to the public first by way of reel to reel machines and then cassettes, it has been possible to duplicate the contents of vinyl. I remember back in the seventies the inner sleeves of albums bore the statement "Home taping is killing music". Well, we're now some 40 years on from this statement and the music industry is still alive and well.

I also remember bootleg albums that you could buy in markets that were always kept under the counter. The law at the time was that while it was illegal to sell bootleg albums, it was not illegal to buy them, which is really a bit of a contradiction in terms as you can't have one without the other.

Now of course with broadband it is entirely possible to freely obtain virtually any album by any artist within a matter of minutes, sometimes seconds, and all it takes is a couple of mouse clicks.

When you look at the cost of new albums in the shops here in the UK (circa GBP 15 on average), and then Amazon (between GBP 8 to GBP 10) and the digital equivalent is quite often the same price or only fractionally less, then is it any wonder that potential buyers feel they are being ripped off yet again?

My feeling is that the music industry and the film industry have been too slow to embrace the technological advances that have been made over the years and their persistence in maintaining a culture of greed has resulted in the situation we find ourselves in now.

My understanding is that here in the UK at least, the type of legislation being considered will aim the interest from the authorities at the party or parties that are conducting the sharing of files with copyright attached, in other words those that upload such content. This seems to fall in line with the law regarding bootleg vinyl albums.

The pirates or uploaders are going to be difficult to shutdown/prosecute as they seem to operate in countries that have little or no regard for international law.

With this potential minefield to consider, perhaps if record companies and film companies together with tax grabbing governments would see fit to reduce the prices of both cd/dvd and digital equivalents substantially, then just maybe we would not have this little problem.

Another dilemma faced by the public - they have bought the album on vinyl, then audio cassette to play in the car, then cd, only to find that a couple of years later there is a digitally remastered edition available, followed a further couple of years down the line by a fortieth anniversary edition remixed and remastered yet again and with outtakes and extra tracks etc etc. How many times is Joe Public expected to splash out for apparently better and better editions of the same album and each time at full price?

I think the ball lies squarely in the court of the record companies.

To conclude, I wonder how many of us upright and law abiding citizens have never in their lifetime borrowed a vinyl album from a friend and taped a copy for themselves, or a cd album perhaps and burned themselves a copy with their new cd writer? I'm sure everyone has heard the one about people in glass houses .....

EDITOR'S NOTE: When vinyl ruled the day, the technology didn't exist to create high quality duplicates, and certainly there was no mechanism to distribute those copies in mass quantities, nearly instantaneously. Sounds like you're saying that the problem, which was almost insignificant in the 70's, is many orders of magnitude worse, at least to the artists and recording companies.


Posted by:

Jim
09 Sep 2011

Are files and documents transmitted via Pando monitored by the alert system? Is Pando considered a peer to peer file transfer system?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think the "police" are going to say where they will be hanging out. Pando is a popular file sharing service, so I would assume yes.


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
13 Sep 2011

Boy, is this a very, very 'touchy' topic!!!

An interesting point about Copyright.

"As soon as a work is created and is in a tangible form (such as writing or taping) the work automatically has federal copyright protection. On any distributed and/or published work a notice should be affixed stating the word copyright, or copy or "c" in a circle, with the name of the creator, and the date of copyright (which is the year of first publication)."

Interesting...Copyright is automatically given, no filing or proving that you in fact did this work or taping.

Just to add insight to this discussion, I have copied and pasted a couple of sentences from
http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Copyright. Read the whole article, to get better insight to this issue.

Copied -- "Under the original provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976, copyright protection of an authored work extended through the life of the author and to fifty years after the author's death. However, in a major piece of legislation, Congress extended copyright terms in 1998 in the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, Pub. L. No. 105-298, 112 Stat. 2827 (17 U.S.C.A. ยงยง 101 et seq.). Title I defines the terms of the copyright extension, while Title II provides a "music licensing exemption for food service or drinking establishments." This portion of the law is also known as the Fairness in Music Licensing Act of 1998.

The duration of copyright law under the 1998 act was extended for all copyrighted materials. Works created on January 1, 1978, or after are protected from the time the work was "fixed in a tangible medium of expression." The term is for life of the creator plus 70 years. If the creator is a corporation, then the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter."

In the beginning of Copyright, it was mainly for authors, so that no one could plagiarize any of their writings. Since, that time Copyright has been extended to a whole magnitude of creative works, including music, movies, computer programs, computer graphics, so on and so forth, mainly for the same reason, plagiarism. Why plagiarism? Think back to all of the lawsuits in the Entertainment industry involving who wrote or created what, in music or movies!

Why, I 'copied' the above, was to illustrate the length of time, that a Copyright is in existence. In my personal opinion, the time frame is way too long. I am sorry, but, I honestly feel that when a person dies, that held the Copyright, their works should become part of Public Domain.

One important point, when a book is published, the author only gets their royalties from the 'first' sale of the book. When an author's book is re-printed, they do NOT get royalties, on those sales, only the first sale of their book. When a book is 'sold' to a Used Book Store, the author doesn't get any royalties, either. Notice, that the sale of used books, used CDs, used movies VHS/DVDs and used Video Games are allowed, without any of the authors or creators or publishers or producers getting any royalties! So, I ask why is there any Copyright Police, in the first place???!!!

We can thank Congress, for this mess. I have NO problems with Copyrights, but must they last for 70 years after an author or creator dies???!!!


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
13 Sep 2011

I must apologize, I made a misstatement in my comment.

I stated that when an author's book is re-printed that they do not get any royalties, they do. But, it is not the same amount, as when it was first published, it is a percentage of that amount and the percentage goes lower, every time the book is re-printed. I think, the same goes for music CDS and movies VHS/DVDs, the royalties are based on how many times their creation has been re-produced.

Now, that would account for all the complaints about paying full price, for a product that is basically years old. Which probably explains why Microsoft and the like, charge the same or more every time they introduce a new Operating System. Darn!

Bottom line, I still think that for the individual creator, that Copyright should end when they die. Corporation Copyright should only have a 20 years shelf life, like medicines do. Drug companies only have a 20 year shelf life, after that the drug can become 'generic'. Which means that a 'generic' drug costs less, than the Brand Name.


Posted by:

howarsd
20 Sep 2011

I don't share files, movies, or music on the internet. But I do download movies and some software from some sites that do share them. Personally, I have no problem with it and this whole thing is driven by money. If someone can download a movie or album or computer software for their own personal use for free, more power to them. I'm sick of corporate greed and trying to make sure they squeeze every last dime out of the general public. Put it this way, if the average American can download a movie for free as opposed to buying it for 25 or 30 bucks or going to the movies for the same price or more, which choice should he make? Thats a no brainer.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Is it? If you could find a way to get cable TV for free "for your own personal use" would you do it?


Posted by:

Mark
24 Sep 2011

Look, the problem is simple- It's a problem of greed, and there isn't even an appropriate, legal means to protest it that will have any real impact.

I don't think anyone will argue that "artists" (could be film makers, musicians, actors, the people doing the work to make the media...) should be entitled to compensation for their work, but that's not what we're talking about here. The people that have really produced something of value only get a small percentage of the money collected and the rest goes to the parasites exploiting both them and the consumers.

There's a lot of decent people out there that wouldn't come close to considering any other crime and would even go out of their way to be "fair" (returning lost items, pointing out mistakes on a bill...) that would either consider or have illegally downloaded media. They're frustrated to the point that they are willing to consider something that they would never do under reasonable circumstances. It's difficult, a hassle, way more expensive then it needs to be, and someone is already reaching into their pocket and charging them way too much for related services.

In my case, I send $150/month to Comcast (which was originally supposed to be $60 for basic internet and some TV that keeps going up and I can't even get high def content that displays correctly on any modern TV for that $), and $200/month on my cel phone bill (again, much of that is for data/media), and for all that I still get 20 minutes or more out of every hour of commercials and everything on the net is inundated with them. I pay for everything I see and use many times over with both my time and money.

For all that I can't get any kind of reasonable level of service- it's unreliable, if something is wrong you can't get it fixed easily (my wife is sitting about 10feet away from me right now ranting about being unable to reach someone to fix a screw up billing something that we paid for 3 weeks ago), I can't pay for just what I use (most of my cable usage is a very few channels, only a couple of hours here and there and again, fully 1/3 of that is commercials wasting my time). You can go to Redbox and get more for cheaper than you can using an on demand service, and you're still overpaying for what you get.

Quit wasting our time and money, quit ripping the consumer off and I'll bet that most of the problem will go away.


Posted by:

howard
25 Sep 2011

Yes Editor, I would. I know some who do. Cable and satellite companies force us to buy channel packages that contain mostly garbage that the majority of people do not watch, yet you have to purchase them to get the channels you really want. Again, it's all about money. As for the copyright issue, I will continue to download movies, music and software for my own use. To be fair, if an individual is selling this material to the public, then I have no problem with them being prosecuted for it. But for those of us who use this material for our own use without trying to make money off of it, leave us alone. If the worst thing we are doing is taking a few bucks out of some millionaires pocket, that's no crime in my eyes...


Posted by:

raqq
30 Sep 2011

This can easily be defeated by hiding one's ISP, or is it?


Posted by:

Flash
11 Oct 2011

I am a DJ and as such I am constantly updating my music library. I, basically, use Frostwire to do this. I used to use Limewire before it ran into legal problems. The similarity between the two has made me think that they connected. Having said that, after reading your article on copywritten material, my question is does Frostwire provide a LEGAL access to FREE downloads or will it go the way of Limewire? I would not be adverse to paying for a service but I must be real in dealing with the economic cost of maintaining a current play list. So I need to know if my current source of music is putting me in a position of illegal activity.

As a former recording artist myself I know that the royalties I received were very miniscule in comparison to other people involved in the recording process and the selling of the product. Thus I have to agree with some of the comments that the artists, themselves, are not getting hurt by music being downloaded on-line. I was part of the scenario. I am not suggesting that the artist's work should not be compensated. The reality is that bulk of that compensation should be on the shoulders of the company the artists record for. After all, that is who is making the biggest gains off the artists.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I did some research on Frostwire, and it appears there is no difference, as far as the legal aspects are concerned. You're still downloading pirated content.

A question about recording royalties... If (as is typical) a contract clearly spelled out the percentage of net profit the artist would receive, and placed the cost & risk of manufacturing, distribution and promotion on the shoulders of the recording company, do you really think it's fair to say they are ripping off the artists?

What prevents artists from taking on the burden of manufacturing, distribution and promotion on their own? Nothing, especially in the digital age, except a little bit of money and lots of hard work. But I don't think too many artists are raking in money using this strategy. So maybe the recording companies are not as "evil" as people like to think.


Posted by:

Patsy
26 Feb 2013

One problem that I do not see addressed, many TV shows are also downloadable. Since I do not get cable, and TV shows only hold the shows for so long on their web site, it is hard to see back aired shows. This is free if you get cable, but if one cannot afford it, and love certain shows, the only way to watch is through downloading from a P2P. Maybe the TV shows can be found somewhere else?


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