Monday, September 8, 2008

Congressman wants ISPs to be copyright police

Let's take a moment to absorb this statistic: 95% of content on the internet is copyrighted to someone... So, in actuality, the vast, vast majority of internet-users (which is the vast majority of Americans), are breaking laws almost every day. Well, according to the outdated copyright laws of pre-internet era at least. We can say with relative certainty, that if not most, a large percentage of copyrighted material that is accessed every day is accessed legally. However, there will always be "piracy", due to the ease and efficiency of the internet. This upsets a very select, small amount of very powerful, rich people. And in the outstanding pluralist American system of government, these people typically get what they want.

California Congressman Howard L Berman (who just so happens to represent Hollywood) promised legislation that will require ISPs to send warning letters to users who have accessed so-called pirated content. Now this idea presents several problems. Because no evidence is collected, there is no way for the ISP to tell if the material was accessed legally, or if it falls under fair use. The technology for this ISP policing is dangerous. The program would only work if everyone used only sequential, single-source, plain text data streams. This makes security precautions, such as encryption, impossible, making identity theft oh-so-simple. The sheer magnitude of "piracy" occurring on the net would far exceed any ISPs bandwith for warning emails, so ISPs would be forced to expand their capacity (which would be an unconstitutional unfunded mandate, striking the legislation down on a technicality). And let's think about it: if every "pirate" were booted from his or her's ISP, the ISP industry would be severely crippled, and possibly collapse.

But there are greater issues at hand, in my opinion. The internet is supposed to be a free, mostly unregulated medium in America, and this legislation is a step in the wrong direction if we want to keep it that way. The laws shouldn't be made to benefit a certain industry (which is a prominent, effective practitioner of quid-pro-quo). Laws are made to protect and benefit the common people. Whose responsibility should it be to monitor and control internet piracy? To punish so-called pirates would go against the fundamental American judicial principle of innocent until proven guilty. And to mandate that the innocent ISPs monitor the practice, with no monetary compensation, seems oligarchical and socialist in nature. The bottom line is that, due to the anonymity of the internet, it is almost impossible to gain enough evidence to convict an individual of piracy. This congressman does not have the well-being of the citizens at heart, instead, he has the money of interest groups such as the RIAA in his pocket.

But off of this ideological tangent, and back to the mashup blog part. The victims (ha) of piracy need to focus more on educating the public on the encyclopedia set of copyright laws before pushing drastic, impractical measures such as this piece of legislation, or, perhaps even consider adapting the archaic copyright laws to have a chance of functioning in the age of the internet. Record companies and Movie studios alike need to advance into the digital age. While analog media such as cds and dvds are always a good idea, digital technology is becoming more and more the norm. Independent record labels hardly even release analog cds anymore, they put up a digital copy for a reasonable, paid download. In the p2p era, 99 cents is simply a small fortune to pay for one single track, when the whole album can be obtained for free in minutes. Its time for an update, not a supression.
-Patrick Morrison

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