A new law under discussion in Britain would require ISPs to monitor network traffic for illegal downloads and disconnect users found guilty of piracy on their third offense. According to the Times, the first suspected illegal download would draw a warning shot (in the form of an email) from the ISP to the user. A second offense would result in a temporary suspension of their account, and on the third strike the user’s contract would be terminated. Any service provider who fails to enforce this new law would be prosecuted.
This proposed legislation is a bad idea for many reasons. First of all, we must ask why ISP’s should be responsible for a police action. Are vendors of kitchen knives expected to follow their customers around to prevent their being used in a crime? Are telephone companies responsible for preventing slander? Should the provider of any service be held accountable for how those services are used?
Second, why all the fuss? As Matthew Ingram puts it, “What we are seeing is the evolution of the content business, not a worldwide crime spree that needs draconian legislation.” The old order is passing, and this law represents a vain attempt to prop it up. If the government feels it must defend the recording and movie corporations against the arrival of the Internet, then why doesn’t it do something about all of the other industries whose business model has been devastated by the web? Evolve or die, says I. By trying to prevent piracy, content producers may even be slicing their own throats.
Finally, how could this law ever be enforced? Would ISP’s be able to scan traffic and successfully identify pirated content versus legitimate file sharing? Do those bits come in different colors? What form of redress would be available to a consumer who was falsely fingered? How would authorities know whether or not an ISP is complying? Termination quotas?