There’s a New Big Brother Online. And He’s Totally ‘Non-Punitive…’

No, the RIAA isn’t hauling file-swappers into court this time, they won’t be bankrupting BitTorrenters while attempting mass-intimidation.  That didn’t work then, and it definitely won’t work in a post-SOPA climate.  But make no mistake: your surfing will be monitored in the near future, and you will be warned and dealt with if caught accessing infringing content.

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It’s all part of a program that starts this summer, and a potentially very effective method for handling the piracy problem.

Welcome to ‘American Big Brother: Infringement Edition’, a show that features lots of warnings, throttling, and ‘graduated responses,’ but ultimately lacks serious enforcement teeth.  And that may be enough: warnings alone have proven a deterrent in countries like the UK and France, and now, the US is giving it a serious try.

But consider this a compromise: as part of a plan hammered out between Time Warner, Comcast, Cablevision, AT&T, the MPAA, RIAA, and others, users will be subjected to monitoring and surveillance, and issued warnings for infringing content.  That allows ISPs to avoid cutting cords, driving customers to rivals, and provoking inevitably horrible headlines.  The RIAA and MPAA still get to enforce – and potentially curb – stealing, though they’ll be forced to exercise restraint (let’s see how that goes).

The administration is happening through the Center for Copyright Information (or CCI), headed by Jill Lesser.    The first step comes from downloading a song, movie, album discography, or the entire history of recorded music in a compressed folder.  That could trigger a detection from the RIAA, who then alerts the ISP and sets a warning in motion.

But this is mostly a ‘non-punitive‘ framework, meaning infringers have lots and lots of chances to reform.  “Alerts will be non-punitive but progressive in scale,” the CCI relayed.  “Successive alerts will reinforce the seriousness of copyright violations and inform the recipient how to address the activity that is precipitating the alerts.  For subscribers who repeatedly fail to respond to alerts, the alerts will inform them of steps that will be taken to mitigate the ongoing distribution of copyrighted content.” But what about repeat infringers, those that ignore warnings and gobble huge quantities of illegal content?  That’s when ‘mitigation measures‘ kick in, which feature bandwidth throttling, and ‘splicing’ of sessions to redirect users to educational pages.

The rest seems in-the-air, with disconnection a dangling weapon.  “ISPs are not required to impose any mitigation measure that could disable a subscriber’s essential services, such as telephone service (to call 911), email, or security or health service,” the group explained, but that leaves the door wide open to cutting the vast range of ‘non-essential’ services.  Which could be a problem if overused.