Goodbye ACTA, hello CCI

11 Jul 2012

I’ve blogged before about ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), the international treaty that would require ISPs in signatory countries to take an active role in protecting copyrighted content, possibly by essentially disconnecting their own customers at the request of copyright holders who claimed infringement (without actually having to prove their case in a court of law).

Last week, the European Parliament soundly rejected ACTA. The treaty has also been signed by a handful of other countries, including the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, but none have ratified it. The European Parliament’s refusal to do so over worries about privacy and censorship will reportedly make it even harder for other government bodies to justify ratification.

Meanwhile, the MPAA and RIAA (both of which pushed hard for and helped architect ACTA, as well as other doomed anti-piracy bills like SOPA) are set to try a different approach – one that actually involves cooperation with the ISP sector rather than legislation.

Back in April, the MPAA and RIAA teamed up with AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon to form an alliance called the Center for Copyright Information, which is reportedly due to begin operations this month (although the start date has already been pushed back a couple of times).

Under the CCI agreement, ISPs will implement a “graduated response plan” (also called a “six strikes policy”) that will result in bandwidth throttling or service suspension (but not permanent disconnection) for users who rack up six warnings of alleged infringement activity.

Time Business describes how it works:

On the first two strikes, you’ll receive a warning email noting illegal activity. For strikes three and four, you’ll be required to confirm your receipt of the notice through a landing page or pop-up window.

Get a fifth strike and harsher consequences, called mitigation measures, kick in. The ISP may reduce your Internet connection speed for a couple of days, make you watch an educational video or force you to call their office to explain yourself. However, specific actions taken are left at the discretion of the individual ISP. Once you’ve run out of strikes, you’re no longer in CCI’s system and are at the mercy of the content providers, who have been known to sue pirates in the past.

At no point under this system will a user’s Internet get totally cut off, and access to key services such as email will not be hampered. If you’re getting copyright alerts but haven’t been downloading illegally, an independent board will review your claim–for a $35 filing fee (the fee is refunded if you’re in the right).

CCI is portraying it as more of an educational approach rather than a punitive one. Whether users make the distinction is another issue altogether. Also, how the throttling aspect plays into net neutrality principles isn’t clearly spelled out.

Another potential worry, says media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, is that in order to enforce the policy, ISPs will have to monitor their customers’ computers, which not only raises privacy issues, but also enables ISPs to do controversial things like prevent people from sharing accounts or even computers.

As a cross-industry solution, the CCI model is relatively benign compared to badly written laws like ACTA and SOPA that stood to make Internet regulation worse without doing a thing to stop piracy. Whether it’s any more effective an anti-piracy solution remains to be seen.

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