Three-strikes proposal divides

For the London Free Press - November 23. 2009 Read this on Canoe

INFRINGEMENT: It addresses concerns of creators and publishers of movies and music

The "three-strikes law" is a controversial proposal to address download infringement concerns of creators and publishers of movies and music.

The concept is that if someone alleges an Internet user is downloading copyrighted material, they can advise their Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP then tells the customer to cease this illegal activity. If this happens three times, the ISP must turn off the customer's Internet access.

France recently approved such a plan, but not without a struggle. An initial version was ruled unconstitutional by the French courts. An amended version was approved this fall which calls on a judge, not a government actor, to sign off on account suspensions.

France is now viewed by supporters as a pioneer against piracy, leading the way by implementing this legislation.

The same proposal in Britain met with public backlash. Public consensus is these measures are too drastic and draconian. The measures will generate a bureaucratic nightmare while having little impact on the overall prevalence of file-sharing.

Other critics argue the increasing prominence of the Internet in everyday life makes suspending that privilege a limit on individual freedom of expression.

Even holders of copyrighted material are split on the subject. Artists, such as the music group Radiohead, argue that any effort to criminalize file-sharing is in vain. They believe artists would be better to embrace the potential of file sharing to share their work with a larger audience. This will allow them the opportunity to generate revenues through concerts and merchandising, and even the sale of their music.

Other artists are of an opposite view, believing that file-sharing restricts the ability of young artists to make a living, lessening the likelihood of success for emerging artists.

The three-strikes law is misguided, even if you believe such activity should be controlled.

Whether someone has violated copyright is often not a black-or-white issue. Copyright law is complex, and knowing in any given instance whether an infringement happened isn't easy.

To implement these policies on a mass basis, in a similar manner to handing out parking tickets, ignores this complexity. And the penalty is more than paying a few dollars in parking fines.

The proposal is also open to abuse as sanctions imposed at the request of an alleged victim can be taken advantage of.

There are numerous examples of questionable takedown notices under the existing U.S. DMCA rules. In fact, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a Takedown Hall of Shame, which lists "bogus copyright and trademark complaints" which "have threatened all kinds of creative expression on the Internet."

This points up another problem with the concept: violations need only be alleged, not proven. An individual may be accused and given a strike by their ISP with no proof of misconduct. Guilty till proven innocent is not something we should condone.

The issue of digital piracy will continue to be a contentious topic. The three strikes proposal is not a palatable solution.