Commentary

British ISPs Hit Sour Note

A new deal between the U.K. record labels' group and six British Internet service providers calls for the ISPs to start taking action against subscribers who allegedly download pirated material. Under the arrangement, the ISPs will send warning letters to users suspected of sharing copyrighted material.

After a set number of warnings, it's possible that ISPs will start throttling traffic, but there's no agreement yet on this point. One ISP, Carphone Warehouse, has gone on record as saying it won't implement any sort of "three strikes" rule that would cut off subscribers' connections after several warnings, according to PC Pro.

The U.K. record labels' organization, BPI, seems happy with this deal, calling it "a groundbreaking agreement.... on measures to help significantly reduce illegal filesharing."

But the reality is that this plan is likely to do nothing other than highlight how hard it is to detect online piracy. An April study showed that filters are routinely stymied by encryption techniques.

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And three University of Washington computer scientists reported last month that they received hundreds of takedown notices wrongly accusing them of infringing copyright. "Our results show that potentially any Internet user is at risk for receiving DMCA takedown notices today," they wrote in the report ""Challenges and Directions for Monitoring P2P File Sharing Networks -- or -- Why My Printer Received a DMCA Takedown Notice."

When innocent users start getting notices that they're suspected of piracy -- and it's inevitable that they will -- the record labels will face an even bigger public relations problem than at present. And users who are infringing copyright might learn that they need to use encryption technology, but there's no reason to think they will stop trading files. If anything, this deal just escalates a brewing battle between Web users and the record labels, while doing nothing to encourage people to pay for music.

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