[AI] Net piracy: The people vs the entertainment industry

Sanjay ilovecold at gmail.com
Tue Apr 20 02:38:54 EDT 2010

                                      New laws to counter illegal downloading will be intrusive and
          ineffective, say internet service providers

by Paul Marks

"THIS is the kind of snooping you'd expect in China, not a modern
western democracy. It raises huge questions over privacy invasion and
freedom of expression." So says Andrew Heaney - who is not, as you
might imagine, a civil liberties campaigner, but a senior executive at
TalkTalk, one of the UK's largest internet service providers. Along
with other ISPs, his company faces the prospect of being forced to spy
on its customers' downloads for signs of potential copyright

Heaney's disquiet is shared by web campaigners worldwide, as the
measures contained in a controversial international copyright
treaty are slowly being translated
into national laws variously tipped to bridge, distract from or widen
the gulf between the entertainment industry's desires and those of the
millions who share copyrighted material over the internet.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), suggested by the US
administration in 2007, aims to redefine global trade rules. The
intention is to stem losses from counterfeiting and internet-mediated
piracy of content like music and movies.

It will do that by penalising internet service providers and websites
that carry, or help people to find, pirated content. ACTA has quickly
proved a hit with G8 nations, the European Union, South Korea and
Australia, who are all using it as a basis for future national laws.

ACTA is still being worked up in secret by trade delegations from the
many nations involved. But a series of leaks to the Wikileaks website
reveal that it will require ISPs to become technological sleuths who
monitor their customers' internet use to "deter unauthorised storage
and transmission of infringing content". Infringers will face a
"graduated response", with disconnection as the ultimate sanction.

The Obama administration's plans to implement ACTA are still hidden in
a thicket of non-disclosure agreements with movie studios and record
labels. The UK's Digital Economy Bill, unveiled in last month, is
clearly inspired by ACTA.

The bill stipulates that people who share copyright-infringing content
should receive two warnings by post, after which they will face
punitive "technical measures". These may include having their internet
connection filtered to block attempts to download copyrighted
material, "throttled" to slow downloads to a crawl, or even cut off
entirely. Spain, Ireland and France have similar plans.

ISPs are wary of being seen to invade customers' privacy by sifting
through their personal data - and of the potential costs involved -
though Nicholas Lansman, head of the European ISP Association,
insists that they oppose illicit file sharing.

"Monitoring every single packet going across our network for the
fingerprints of hundreds of copyrighted files will require tens of
millions of pounds' worth of computer systems," Heaney warns. Without
that extra computing power, internet access will slow to a crawl.

ISPs would have to scan the contents of every chunk of data, using
what is known as "deep packet inspection" technology, which is used by
China and Iran to monitor and censor internet communications. But even
if ISPs install such technology, identifying infringers will be far
from straightforward. The EU has ruled that before anyone can be sent
a warning letter, rights holders must take an ISP to court to get the
name and address of an alleged culprit.
ISPs would have to scan every chunk of data with the sort of software
now used by China and Iran

There is evidence that such threats will deter some people from
illicitly sharing content (see "Copyright conundrum"). Others, though,
will simply seek ways of carrying on regardless.

Freeloading on an unsuspecting neighbour's Wi-Fi connection is one
option - and is possible even if the connection is secured. YouTube
carries videos on how to use free software to "sniff" the passwords of
protected connections. The ease with which people can "borrow" Wi-Fi
in this way undermines the assumption that the owner of a connection
can be blamed for everything downloaded by it. "The government knows
there is a wireless hijacking risk but they haven't proposed a process
by which people can be assumed innocent until proven guilty," says

The mobile broadband connections provided via cellphones or computer
USB sticks offer another loophole to the disconnected. Mobile
providers do not assign IP addresses to users as fixed line providers
do, so it's not possible to track file sharing to individuals.

These problems are exacerbated by changes in sharing technology.
BitTorrent, the most popular file-sharing protocol, used to depend on
central websites to host "trackers" - small files that tell software
where to find particular files. The Pirate Bay site in Sweden was the
most popular tracker host, but it recently shut down after a
refinement to the BitTorrent protocol allowed tracking tasks to be
shared out among users.

With the disappearance of tracker hosts, ACTA has lost one of its main
targets, although rights holders can still track alleged infringers,
says Danny O'Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San
Francisco. Investigators can join a network and spy on its users from
the inside, he says.

Heaney notes that software used to record music from legitimate
internet streaming services, and that can automatically label all
tracks in a handy library, is impossible to detect. Meanwhile, O'Brien
predicts offline sharing will become more common, as
ultra-high-capacity hard drives get cheaper. By this time next year a
terabyte of storage - enough for more than 1000 movies - is expected
to cost as little as $50.

Public attitudes and the nature of digital information mean that large
numbers of people will continue to breach copyright, O'Brien says.
"The fact they can do it so casually is a side-effect of how easy it
is to copy digital data, and how difficult it is to stop that. That
ease of copying isn't going to go away."

More information about the AccessIndia mailing list