The Six-Strike Copyright Alert System Is Doing it Wrong

Ending piracy has nothing to do with macho policy, but just try telling that to the copyright holders.

I warned you. I even gave you a number of ways to get around it, but now it’s here. As of Monday, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and other Internet service providers are officially playing copyright cops to the severely butthurt RIAA and MPAA. Taking their power from the Center for Copyright Information’s newly implemented Copyright Alert System, major ISPs will now begin serving up six strikes to customers suspected of downloading copyrighted material “improperly” before slowing their connections. And, once again, it’s going to be almost completely futile.

The CCI announced the plan this past summer much to the lolz of webheads everywhere given the super-simple measures it takes to bypass the newly minted automatic scanning software. The snickers apparently prompted a revision that delayed the launch, originally set for July 2012 rollout, till this week. Hell, if the entire Internet laughed at me, I’d take some time too, so I don’t blame them. But this plan? This plan is ridiculous.

Beyond being virtually the same six-strike program the CCI was pimping back in June, the CAS is essentially a half-baked counter-piracy measure. It’s a plan developed solely by major ISPs and record/film companies with no input from the end user. There’s no explanation behind the pop-up warnings you’ll receive in your browser. You’ve got to pay $35 to contest a charge should you face a warning. Oh, and, hey, besides that, it’s actually a five-strike system—the sixth comes in the form of bandwidth throttling without notification. Sounds real balanced.

Mixed metaphors notwithstanding, should this slapdash plan actually snatch up any nasty web pirates, it’s not as if it will serve as anything more than a Band-Aid on the music and film industry’s perceived money loss problems. I say perceived here because, according to The Atlantic, global music sales actually saw an uptick of 0.3 percent last year—and that’s in the face of those big, nasty illegal downloaders. Not a huge amount, sure, and sales are still down in the U.S., but for the first time since Napster hit the web in 1999, music sales are up overall. But why?

Surely more strict counter-piracy measures in some European countries have contributed. And, yes, the global middle-class is growing at a rate that allows for more expendable income. But what’s really changed over the past 13 years is the same thing that’s been driving trends in Internet culture since the beginning: technology. That is, the devices we use to access the content over which the copyright cops are clamoring. Policy ain’t got much to do with it.

Nowadays, we have Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, Last.FM, and a slew of other legal streaming websites at our disposal. Then there’s iTunes and the Amazon digital store, which allow for purchasing of single tracks over entire albums. Tack on YouTube, Hulu, Vudu and Netflix, and it’s clear what’s caused an uptick in moneymaking for the creative set among us. In fact, since 2011, those streaming services collectively have seen a 44 percent increase in users. And that certainly isn’t because it’s getting impossible to get the content you want for free—that’s still amazingly easy.

But these streaming and downloading services are easier. And this seems to be the crux that the copyright holders are missing: Consumers are going to use whatever is easiest, cheapest, safest and most convenient to get their content, consequences (should there be any) be damned. We no longer live in a world where you have to purchase a physical copy of your entertainment to use it, so continuing on with a business mindset that we’re still in that world can only lead to your customers seeking alternative outlets. Whether the corporations behind that entertainment get any money from that outlet isn’t the concern here—it’s simply getting the entertainment.

Monitoring schemes, macho posturing, litigious behavior—we’ve seen all of these in the past from the RIAA and MPAA. They’re clinging to outdated business models that led to the pirating movement in the first place, and yet there’s a change to be expected on the part of the consumer. And what, exactly, have the enormous lawsuits, examples made and jackassery gotten us as of 2013?  Bupkis. It’s still a fight, and the fatcats aren’t taking the lead in that fight.

So, to extend their terrible sports metaphor, it’s time the RIAA and MPAA start playing ball if they want to see any change in the score. The pirates, meanwhile, will just keep on playing.