Paresh Nath, The Khaleej Times

Invasion of the Internet-Killing Bots

Fear of Flagging

Wednesday, March 6, 2013
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As of February 25, Internet service providers across the U.S. have begun to implement a six-strikes ‘law’ to clamp down on ‘illegal’ file sharing. There are a few interesting examples of how bad robots are at policing humans.

As of this Monday, February 25, Internet service providers across the United States have begun to implement a six-strikes ‘law’ to clamp down on ‘illegal’ file sharing. This move, which comes on the heels of a hotly contested legislative battle over greater Internet restrictions, marks the end of network neutrality on behalf of the corporations that we rely on for service on a day-to-day basis.

Starting in 2011, the automated Copyright Alert System (CAS) was created to monitor peer-to-peer file-sharing systems for illegal content sharing, and has lately teamed up with five major telecommunications providers to levy penalties against consumers flagged by the system. No longer will you be guaranteed unrestricted and unmonitored service from major service providers. This dangerous precedent is being set as we speak.

Alex Luhrman
Click to enlarge photo

Alex Luhrman

Okay, now you may be saying that I am sensationalizing this issue or it may not apply to you, since you don’t engage in illegal file sharing. To be fair, it is not even a law in the common sense – no legislation has been passed, and you won’t go to jail if you’re caught sharing the latest Miley Cyrus album. What it does mean, however, is that a group of corporations that control almost all the data that flows in the United States has come to a private arrangement with the content industry to systematically monitor and restrict access to certain data.

Details are still quite sparse regarding what penalties service providers may levy. It is reported that at least one service provider will reduce your Internet connection speed to a crawl, or even suspend your service after repeated violations.

So who has agreed to work with the Copyright Alert System? It appears that if you use Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, or Cablevision, there is a good chance the CAS will be feeding information to them and they in turn will likely act on it. One could guess that putting an automated system in charge of policing the Internet is a bad idea, that this is the beginning of a massive headache for consumers and the ISPs (Internet service providers) involved.

There are a few interesting examples of how bad robots are at policing humans. In one instance, the Hugo Awards, one of science fiction’s most acclaimed awards ceremonies, was being broadcasted over the Internet at Ustream when it was repeatedly shut down by a copyright enforcement bot that flagged it for showing a clips of Doctor Who before Neil Gaiman (Doctor Who‘s script writer) accepted his award. After repeated attempts to get the stream back online, it was announced that the stream wouldn’t be available thanks to the copyright troll-bot. Meanwhile, thousands of Youtube videos or their soundtracks have been removed due to ‘improper’ use of copyrighted music.

Currently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is providing assistance in the Lenz vs. Universal case, wherein Stephanie Lenz’s 29-second video of her children bouncing up and down to Prince’s “Lets Go Crazy” was promptly removed after Universal issued a DMCA take-down notice to Youtube. Fair use, which is argued, is a gray area of copyright law that in most cases must be pondered – something that robots are particularly bad at. The slick new website of the Copyright Alert System asserts that “Whenever you create something like a poem, a story, or a song, you own it – and no one else can use it without your permission.” It doesn’t sound like they are considering fair use much at all.

I feel like an epic battle is playing out before our eyes. The vanguard of content distribution is being assaulted at all costs by the outmoded business model of big content.

Services such as Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify provide users a valuable service, and charge for it. While big content is warming up to those commercial services, the peer-to-peer content distribution networks are also bearing fruit – they just haven’t been creative enough to really capitalize on it yet. It’s a brave new world out there, and big content certainly needs to adapt to survive, but the Copyright Alert System is likely to be one of last gasps of this industry as we understand it today.

Alex Luhrman writes “Politics and the Internet” for the Santa Barbara Independent. “Invasion of the Internet-Killing Bots,” his most recent column, is republished here as a Voice. Luhrman has been extending his skills in information security, social media, and open source intelligence to activists and businesses from Santa Barbara to Cairo since 2005.

Follow Alex on Google+
@alexluhrman on Twitter


Independent Discussion Guidelines

There are plenty of valid reasons for downloading free copies of digital content online. I downloaded a new episode of Survivor last night from Piratebay because the version that was recorded onto my DVR that I pay for came out choppy (thanks, Cox). Maybe I own a CD that I want in MP3 format so I can put it on my ipod and I decide to download the MP3s instead of downloading a program off of the internet and ripping them myself. Thank God Piratebay bought those unmanned aerial drones to fly their servers around on so government thugs stop stealing them.

Another valid reason for downloading digital content online is because it is available and you feel like it. That's right, Intellectual Property is a horrible concept that has done great damage to mankind as a whole in favor of monopolistic, corporatist interests of big business.

Some of the most successful music bands of all time have taken to the strategy of giving away their music to fans and subsequently touring sold-out shows. Playing a band's music is not stealing from them, it is promotion. Copying somebody's book and making it available is not stealing, it is promotion. There are plenty of ways to capitalize on one's fame once your material is promoted. There are also laws against fraud. If I ask if a particular book or CD is an authorized production by the artist/author and it isn't, then a seller could potentially be liable for fraud. However that is a far cry from copying and sharing digital content online, or even selling content within the framework of free exchange.

The biggest problem with IP, however, it is that you have to destroy legitimate property rights in order to preserve what are in fact not legitimate property rights. I should have the right to build, manipulate and configure my property any way that I want to. But if I do it a certain way that is described in a patent, EVEN if I've never even seen the patent, I can be held liable for producing valuable commodities for others and have my own physical property taken.

Some of the greatest inventions of all time, under-utilized or maybe not even utilized at all as a competing firm buys the patent for the new technology which may destroy their poor investment in their current infrastructure, perhaps while freeing the rest of the world.

We should absolutely work to ensure that the valuable members of society who contribute ideas are taken good care of. That doesn't mean it should be done through force. Granting them the privilege to take others' physical property by force for merely submitting an idea to the state in the proper format is not the best way to increase overall wellness for society. While the person who has the idea may not benefit as much directly from their own ideas in this system, true property rights remain preserved and beyond that they will receive countless benefits from being able to utilize others' ideas where they cannot in the current system.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
March 8, 2013 at 10:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)


"Some of the most successful music bands of all time have taken to the strategy of giving away their music to fans and subsequently touring sold-out shows."

I agree with your point, although I'm not sure this is a good example. Bands signed to big labels almost always make their money by selling show tickets and merchandise. It's the record companies/labels that profit from direct music sales on media (or downloaded-for-pay). The intellectual property/copyright protects the interest of corporations and their executives...and there is of course benefit to shareholders.

On the other hand, there are a few bands that are truly independent and follow the model you describe, although they usually never reach the heights attainable by being promoted by a large record company. And, you will likely never hear them on a Top-40...or staion.

equus_posteriori (anonymous profile)
March 8, 2013 at 11:09 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Theft is theft.
It's easy for rich people to give away their work.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 8, 2013 at 11:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So many people claim they support indie music/films/artist but they rip them off on the internet!

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 8, 2013 at 12:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

equus_posteriori, you are correct regarding the distribution of moneys for bands signed to big labels. For the most part, no bands, big or small, really make a lot of money off of their own album sales, the labels do. They use the money to promote their tours where the bands make the bulk of their income.

When I talk about bands giving away their music, I'm not just talking about giving away their albums because generally they will sell their album along with some artwork (with rare exceptions like radiohead who gave away digital copies of their album online). What I was really referring to are the bands that encourage(d) their audiences to create bootleg albums of their live shows and make copies of those and their albums to give out to friends. Ever heard of The Grateful Dead or Nine Inch Nails?

As far as independent artists, they are the ones hurt the most by our current system. They have pretty much zero access to the most popular venues due to contractual agreements among the very large film and music distribution labels who are the ones really profiting from the intellectual property scam. That means the work of independent artists must go through other channels such as independent film festivals before it can gain any traction. Even then, most people around the country don't have access to independent film venues, they have access to big box theaters that don't have the option of playing independent films even if they wanted to or their was the demand.

But what everybody has access to nowadays is the internet. The best way for a small independent artist, music or film, to gain traction these days is to give away their work online. Youtube even lets you do it for free. If your film gets 20 million hits and you have people begging for more, funding for more of your work will find a way to your door. Not only that, but you will have built up a very large reputation that would be difficult to gain even with the entire independent film/music "industry" awarding your work as one of the best independent works.

loonpt (anonymous profile)
March 8, 2013 at 2:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

One approach you can take on this is to think of the internet as a medium for communication like a phone line.

Currently, phone lines can't be tapped without a court order. If a court order wasn't required, a whole can of worms would be opened.

So now we have a situation where your communications can be "sniffed" on the internet by private parties (not the government or law enforcement agencies). Sure, bitorrent users trading in stolen intellectual propery might get caught. But now you're on a slippery slope.

What's to prevent Comcast or Cox from sniffing your traffic to see if you've been visiting Time Warner's website to look for an alternative internet provider? Then what's next ....?

I'm not devious enough to know, but there are tons of business school graduates out there who do.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
March 9, 2013 at 12:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Another thought ... the Copyright Alert System described in the article is akin to having a powerful rancher in the wild west with an army of hired guns to met out the rancher's own brand of justice.

That rancher can do whatever he wants so long as he can get away with it. Do you really want that kind of power in the hands of private corporations?

If someone is going to be allowed to sniff your internet communications (e.g. email, web transactions) wouldn't you prefer it be in the hands of law enforcement where you've got a chance that due process is enforced?

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
March 9, 2013 at 12:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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