Steven Nelson   08 Mar 2013   Internet Governance

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Is online piracy a big problem? Big content providers in the US - movie studios and music labels in particular - think so, and have been fretting over it for years. Indeed, bigwigs in the music industry blame the internet for the sharp decline in music sales over the past decade. The movie industry appears to be in better shape, but those industry chiefs also think money is being lost, so they're all for finding a solution to stop the bleeding. But how can it be done?

One solution could have been recognising the new reality of content distribution and trying out new business models to capitalise on that. But the content providers, especially the recorded music industry, didn't choose that path. Instead, the Recording Industry Association of America tried suing members of the general public for years in an apparent attempt to scare people from downloading illegally-copied music.

It didn't work. Illegal file sharing has remained as robust as ever, particularly on the so-called "peer-to-peer" networks. Attempts to squash internet piracy through legal means such as the SOPA bill, introduced in the US Congress last year, also failed spectacularly.

The latest attempt to end online piracy is the Copyright Alert System (CAS), which recently went into effect in the United States. The CAS is an arrangement between the big content providers and the country's five biggest internet service providers to monitor peer-to-peer networks and catch users sharing copyrighted files.

Their idea is to set up a three-tiered, "six strikes" system of warnings and sanctions to online pirates. The first two "strikes" simply notify users by email that they've been caught. The next two strikes are a bit more serious: a notification pops up on your browser, which you have to click on to acknowledge that you've been busted.

The last tier, however, is the most serious. When they catch you file-sharing, your ISP can temporarily limit your bandwidth speed or downgrade your service. They won't cut off your internet service under this plan, but presumably this sanction will make you feel the pain of reduced internet speed.

So will this latest attempt to regulate the untamed virtual world succeed in limiting piracy? Zach Walton of Web Pro News is doubtful: "At best, copyright owners will be able to proclaim that piracy rates are down as more people either use VPNs or move off of P2P and onto Usenet or Mega. At worst, consumers revolt and ISPs drop it after seeing that it’s costing them customers. Either way, piracy isn’t going anywhere."

And yet the "Six Strikes" system set up by the CAS presents several potential problems for individuals and businesses. We'll explore what those could be in the next post on this subject.

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