ISPs policing your internet use

Watch out! If certain music industry representatives have their way, internet service providers will be required to police your use of the internet.
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  • Updated:19 Feb 2009

01.The issue

Man using computer

The music industry reports a reduction in CD profits over recent years, which has motivated them to push for control over how consumers access and store music. They've attempted to exert control through new copyright laws, technology such as digital rights management (DRM) software — which prevents copying and sharing of music — and now through threats to cut off consumers' internet access.

CordsOne proposal made by the Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI) has proposed that Australian ISPs adopt a 'three strikes and you're out' notice and disconnection scheme. Customers suspected of music piracy would be given warning notices and, if the suspected infringement continued, their internet accounts would be suspended or disconnected. MIPI have provided little information as to how suspected copyright infringers will be identified – just that the internet protocol (IP) addresses of suspected infringers will be passed on to ISPs.

There are serious privacy concerns about how this information is gathered. Worse, using IP addresses to identify actual users is far from reliable as they are rarely allocated to just one individual but to an internet connection. This method can hold internet account holders responsible for any use of their service regardless of their involvement. Allowing a relative, friend or child’s friend to use the internet leaves the account holder open to the risk of being warned, suspended and/or disconnected by their ISP. Likewise, wireless internet account holders are put at risk of losing their service if they are unable to properly secure their service from outside freeloaders – an easy mistake for consumers to make. Such a proposal could also threaten the provision of free internet by cafes and councils as it could warrant too high a risk of disconnection.

CHOICE does not support these proposals. We think it's time to put consumers' rights first.

The European Union Parliament has recently voted to support a report that condemns moves to disconnect users from the internet at the demand of copyright holders as a violation of fundamental rights. While the Parliament has no law making ability, it exerts influence on the European Commission and its Member States.

The Parliament voted to call "on the [European] Commission and the Member States to recognise that the Internet is a vast platform for cultural expression, access to knowledge, and democratic participation in European creativity, bringing generations together through the information society; calls on the Commission and the Member States, therefore, to avoid adopting measures conflicting with civil liberties and human rights and with the principles of proportionality, effectiveness and dissuasiveness, such as the interruption of Internet access."

The report also notes that “criminalising consumers who are not seeking to make a profit is not the right solution to combat digital piracy”.

Copyright holders, including the music industry, have already benefited from substantial changes to copyright laws, such as lengthening terms of protection by 20 years and increased civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringements. Despite this, there has been no independent evidence that any of these measures have increased sales of CDs. In fact, there is little reliable evidence to suggest that a reduction in online file sharing by consumers would cause CD sales to increase sufficiently. Instead, research commissioned by the Canadian government found that people who shared music over the internet were more likely than average to purchase CDs. The music industry’s focus on piracy seems to have led it to ignore other possible causes of decreased profits such as changing consumer preferences and the increase in competing options for entertainment time and money (such as DVDs, and internet browsing).

CHOICE is also carefully following the development of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement  (ACTA), which may affect consumers who download music and other media.

What we want

Commercial piracy harms consumers and industry and is properly subject to strong enforcement including criminal sanctions. However, this does not justify the music industry treating ordinary consumers as potential criminals. The music industry needs to start understanding consumers better and innovating with changing consumer preferences, not to actively oppose them. Consumers' digital rights should not be further compromised for the interests of this small but highly influential industry group. Internet access is an essential service to many consumers and should not be put at risk of disconnection because of questionable commercial interests.

Policing of the internet by ISPs is unacceptable and is likely to raise the costs for all internet users as well as raise serious privacy concerns.

CHOICE wants

  • Copyright holders like the music industry to stop lobbying for policies that harm consumers and start focusing on improving their business by working with consumers. These industries should attempt to better understand consumers and stop treating them as potential criminals.
  • ISPs to continue to resist music industry pressure to police internet use for copyrighted content.
  • The government to repel laws that criminalise non commercial copyright breaches.

What we're doing

CHOICE has written to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to oppose the 'three strikes and you're out' proposal and any other attempt to force ISPs into becoming the internet copyright police.




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