Leave Six Strikes Alone!

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by Brett Thomas on March 6, 2013 in Editorials & Interviews

Six Strikes is live in the US, and the Internet is full of its usual rage. Rather than jump in swinging with both fists, Brett set down his editorial pen to let some truths come out before grabbing his own pitchfork and torch. With a little more knowledge and less gut reaction, he jumps to the defense of Six Strikes as the abused pop star that he feels it is.

Legal Standing, Targeted Users & Final Thoughts

This isn’t a courtroom

Everywhere you look, media are lambasting the fact that challenging the copyright infringement claim will cost $35 and that (at least as far as Comcast goes) cannot be done until you reach mitigating steps.  However, call me old-fashioned, but I’m failing to see where this is a problem. 

I can completely understand how a person might be a little upset to get one strike (maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyybe two) “accidentally.”  But if all you get from that is a warning, what is the problem?  If it was accidental or mislabeled, you have nothing to fear.  If the “accident” was your fifth or sixth strike, well… what about the other four or five?! 

This is why it’s the Six Strike program and not the Two Strike program or One Strike program that we all know damn well the MPAA/RIAA would much rather have.  It’s not because every strike until the mitigation measures is okay or acceptable use, it’s to account for possible errors and to allow you to make corrective actions before becoming the next Jammie Thomas.

Six Strikes is about the ISP imposing a barrier BEFORE the MPAA/RIAA can haul your ass into court.

People are looking for appeals, legal channels and “innocent until proven guilty” rights inside of a private contract.  I’ll save you the magnifying glass on the fine print – that doesn’t exist.  The government doesn’t get domain over the ISP terms of service outside of prosecuting clearly illegal use (child pornography, blatant IP theft, cybercrime, etc.).  Six Strikes is about the ISP imposing a barrier BEFORE the MPAA/RIAA can haul your ass into court, where you would still have all of those rights – but a much higher dollar value at stake. 

Think of it similarly to an arbitration clause.  “If they accuse you of screwing up, we get six chances to work together with you, our client, to deal with it internally before they can really come after you” is what this translates to.  There aren’t appeal rights or “innocent vs. guilty” concepts here.  “You have been accused of stealing, so did you know that you probably didn’t have to?  Here’s where you can get this legally.”  If it was someone hijacking your WiFi, you now know to secure it.  If it was your kid using your connection inappropriately, please be a parent and discipline/educate them.  If it was you, well… please stop, or we’ll yell “stop!” again.

It’s not likely targeting anyone who cares enough to read this article

It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science or more than about three minutes of research to realize that the Six Strikes law has nothing behind it that would genuinely interfere with knowledgeable pirates or piracy.  First of all, using a VPS (aka “seedbox”), most Usenet services, Tor, many private torrent trackers or any other number of mitigating effects would completely cloak you from your ISP’s “watchful eye.”  Any halfway intelligent pirate already uses one or more of these options.  Many opponents have started off with this as a primary argument – it’s not an effective step against piracy if it can’t even begin to identify the pirates.

It’s not real piracy that these rules are in place for, it’s to shepherd the basic consumer away from the illegal sources.

However, here’s some food for thought:  I get to hear all sorts of things from my family as they try to talk about things that relate to me, which quite often involves computers.  I’ve found out some interesting things.  For instance, my grandmother now knows about torrents.  My cousin recently showed me how he and his roommates bought a console hard drive packed with games and movies from one of his old high-school buddies for their dorm room.  My fifteen-year-old nephew gets his iPod games from his classmate.  My mother shares Kindle eBooks with her friend using a linked account.  Not a single one of these people thinks that any of those is something wrong – none of them even considered it to be piracy.

It’s not real piracy that these rules are in place for, it’s to shepherd the basic consumer away from the illegal sources – because half of them don’t even know it’s illegal.  It really has become so easy to steal stuff that even the people who can and would legally pay for it don’t think of it.  Consumer education, I would dare argue, is truly most of that battle, and at least the Six Strikes program is taking a shot at providing that before the MPAA/RIAA hounds can rush in and sue my grandmother to the poorhouse.  Don’t say they wouldn’t do it – I think we have a good track record that proves they would.

Am I, of all people, seriously defending this piece of crap program?

Yes.  I think it’s better than the RIAA suing a mother for $250k.  I think it’s better than allowing the nonsense trolling letters to collect exorbitant demands out of people or throw them into court to pay for a few lawyers’ student loans.  I think it’s better than France’s Three-Strikes and better than China’s censorship and better than just about any service out there aside from doing nothing. 

Because guess what?  We can’t just do nothing any further.  When my grandmother thinks TPB has “a really neat logo… why are they so obsessed with pirates?  But I got the new version of Office, can you come install it for me?” and my mother thinks sharing a Kindle account is “no different than loaning her my paperback!”, we have a consumer problem.   These people aren’t stealing it because they can’t afford it or even because they don’t want to pay for it – they’re stealing because piracy has become so sophisticated and idiot-proof that they can’t distinguish it from the way it’s all supposed to work.

For those who truly want to be pirates, for whatever reasons that may be chosen, the Six Strikes rules will not do a thing.  So why bother complaining about them? Be thankful that the casual ones who draw attention to your behaviors will be shepherded back to paying for things, which keeps idiots off your private trackers and out of your usenet groups.  “The first rule of Fight Club,” and all that.

The way I see it, Six Strikes has a long road ahead of it but a good goal and an actual roadmap to get there.  Let’s let it mature to a sensible system that can help keep people who didn’t mean to be pirates from being wrung through the ringer of legal battles (not to mention accidental viruses, trojans, botnets, etc) that come from uneducated users being able to access pirated content as easily as (or more easily than) legal sources.  It’s not perfect – it probably won’t be – but I’d rather take a stab at some self-regulation and consumer education than let the RIAA and MPAA dictate it in the courtroom.

So PLEASE.  LEAVE SIX STRIKES ALONE!!!

PS:  Dear RIAA and MPAA:  Really, I was just kidding about all of my family members.  Please do not go searching their Internet records and dragging my grandma into court.  Kthxbai. ;-)