When the entertainment and broadband industries’ “six strikes” anti-piracy regime first launched a few years ago, most people (outside of Hollywood) realized it wouldn’t work for a number of reasons. One, data has pretty consistently shown that such graduated response anti-piracy systems — whether three “strikes” or six — don’t work, and in fact may actually make things worse. Two, even partner ISP execs I spoke to ahead of the program’s launch made it clear they knew the program wouldn’t do much, with most infringers simply hiding their behavior behind proxy servers of VPNs.
Publicly, the firm created to run the program (the Center for Copyright Information) has frequently tried to claim the program is a smashing success, often using unreliable, contradictory evidence to try and suggest pushing ISPs into the role of content nannies was a wonderful idea. But privately, Hollywood and the MPAA have acknowledged the program isn’t doing much, though they’re quick to argue that this is only because it hasn’t yet been “brought up to scale.”
Amusingly, some of the very same Hollywood voices that pushed so hard for six strikes and ignored warnings that it wouldn’t work, are now calling the program an abject failure. The Internet Security Task Force, a coalition of smaller studios, which counts copyright troll Voltage Pictures among its members, has come out swinging this week against six strikes in a press release, calling the program a “sham”:
“We’ve always known the Copyright Alert System was ineffective, as it allows people to steal six movies from us before they get an educational leaflet. But now we have the data to prove that it’s a sham,” Gill comments. “On our film ‘Expendables 3,’ which has been illegally viewed more than 60 million times, the CAS only allowed 0.3% of our infringement notices through to their customers. The other 99.7% of the time, the notices went in the trash,” he adds.”
One, ISTF doesn’t appear to know how the program Hollywood pushed for actually works, since users receive an “educational leaflet” the first time they’re found to infringe. Steps two through six then include “mitigation measures” that may involve having your connection throttled or finding your broadband access temporarily suspended until you’ve clearly acknowledged you’ve been naughty. Users then have the honor of paying a $35 fee if they’d like to fight the accusation. After the sixth strike nothing happens, and nobody tracks offenders between ISPs, something Hollywood is surely eager to “remedy” with program updates.
ISTF notes that the five major ISPs participating in six strikes (AT&T U-verse, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS), saw a 4.54% increase in infringements during the fourth quarter of last year. Two non-participating ISPs, Charter and Cox (the latter of which is being sued by BMG for allegedly ignoring piracy), saw a 25.47% decrease in infringements during that same period. Assuming you can trust Hollywood math here (never a wise bet), the ISTF claims this is proof of the fact that ISPs aren’t taking piracy seriously:
“These alarming numbers show that the CAS is little more than talking point utilized to suggest these five ISPs are doing something to combat piracy when in actuality, their customers are free to continue pirating content with absolutely no consequences,” said ISTF member Nicolas Chartier, CEO of Voltage. “As for its laughable six strikes policy, would any American retailer wait for someone to rob them six times before handing them an educational leaflet? Of course not, they call the cops the first time around.”
Of course if non-participating ISPs are seeing infringement drop massively while participating ISPs are seeing a slight rise, that would seem to suggest that graduated response programs actually make things worse, which is what data Hollywood ignored said in the first place. The ISTF’s solution for the States is to implement an uglier version of Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act, which gives ISPs safe harbor only if they agree to pass on all infringement notices. While the Canadian law caps damages, it hasn’t done much to thwart copyright trolls, who appear to just be making up for the income reduction by shaking down Canadian users on greater scale.
While these smaller studios are solely focused on greasing the rails for their “settlement-o-matic” shake downs, it’s only a matter of time before the MPAA and the larger studios start pushing for “improvements” to six strikes as well, whether that’s an organization that tracks offenders between ISPs, or a frontal assault on VPNs and proxy services. And that’s just it, these studios consistently whine about the need for aggressive enforcement policies that have been proven not to work, and when they fail the answer isn’t adaptation of the business models to the modern age, it’s an expansion of already-bad ideas that clearly aren’t working. It’s a bottomless well of dysfunction. Unfortunately for Hollywood, any expansion of six strikes is going to have a steeper uphill climb in the post SOPA era, which may hinder the program from mutating into something truly monstrous.