Our Big Frakking Brother

Our Big Frakking Brother (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 2-28-13)

It’s getting late as our hero sits at his terminal.  C-Bucks lost again, and another thousand cubits lost betting on Pyrimid.  

“Frak!  How could they possibly lose to the Panthers?” our hero thinks.  Of course, it’s not so much the money.  Let’s face it…the way things are going, cubits are going to be pretty frakking useless anyway.  No, it’s the incessant trash talk that comes with another loss to Picon.  “Looks like we’ll spend tomorrow listening to them run their frakking mouths.”

Our hero finds another stream on his terminal.  Looks like the new Holly Legrand movie has finally made it to stream.  With a click of the control, the opening scene appears on the terminal.

“What the frak!”

The stream freezes, and a window appears.

“This is a notice from the Center for Copyright Information.  Our monitoring system has detected that your account may have been misused for online content theft.  Further misuse will result in the reduction of services.  If you believe you have received this alert in error, please contact the Center for Copyright Information.  One of our arbitrators will be happy to judge your claims.  You must acknowledge the receipt of this alert.  Please acknowledge this alert by clicking here.”


Seems a bit outlandish, doesn’t it?  The continuous monitoring of video channels in an effort to detect undesired activity.  Fortunately, U. S. citizens are protected from such surveillance by the 4th amendment.  You remember it from your civics class; that’s the one that protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures.  Basically, it says that a government organization must have probable cause and a warrant before a search may be conducted and private property seized.

There’s just one small problem.  It doesn’t apply to us.  At least in terms of monitoring Internet usage.

You see, the Center for Copyright Information is a real organization that was formed by the Recording Industry and Internet Service Providers for the sole purpose of policing online copyright infringement.   This surveillance program, known as the Copyright Alert System, requires Internet providers to monitor all peer-to-peer connections, and provide alerts if suspected copyright infringement is detected.  Alerts from the Internet provider may range from email notifications, redirection to landing pages for educational purposes, or temporary reduction of Internet bandwidth.  A board of Recording Industry and ISP representatives governs the organization and maintains significant control over the arbitrators in the event that an alert is challenged.  No appeal of the Center’s final decision is permitted.

Now one may argue that the Center for Copyright Information is a private organization, and the Copyright Alert System is created through the mutual contract between private organizations.  While technically true, it’s not difficult to argue that the communication industry is so heavily regulated that no program like this would ever be able to move forward without at least the tacit approval of the regulatory bodies.  Indeed, many political organizations, including the White House, have lined up behind this program.  Also, the nature of the collusion between the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the major Internet Service Providers – Comcast, AT&T, Cablevision, Time Warner and Verizon, representing 75 percent of broadband Internet customers – would seem to raise concern regarding cronyism and possible anti-trust infringements.  But I’m not holding my breath that anyone is going to care too much about that.

The Copyright Alert System formally launched this past week.  For more information on this program and copyright law as it relates to electronic media, please see the Electronic Frontier Foundation at eff.org.

Until next time, I’m off the grid.  @gregory_a_baker




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