Illicitly Downloading Content? Your Internet Might Start To Get Slower

If you get your internet through Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision or Time Warner, and you’re still downloading music, television, or movies without paying them, you may start feeling something in addition to your guilt. In collaboration with the Center for Copyright Information, a group that includes both those internet service providers, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, Independent Film and Television Alliance, and the American Association of Independent Music, the companies will let you know they’re watching what you’re up to:

As part of what’s known as the “six strikes” system, the ISPs will deliver to consumers a graduated series of six messages that starts with a warning and ends with some sort of action…While the first two alerts serve as warnings or reminders, the second two require consumers to confirm receipt of the message. The final two, called mitigation alerts, could result in some sort of action, like slower Internet connection or suspending service. The CAS doesn’t specify what consequences ISPs should impose on consumers and leaves it up to each ISP.

The Stop Online Piracy Act may have died last year, but it seems inevitable that internet service providers, as well as search firms like Google, would get into the business of trying to crack down on illicit downloads. Media consolidation means that cable and internet companies like Comcast have as part of their business model creating and distributing original content. An organization like Google seems to be gradually discovering that there’s more money to be had in distributing, if not yet creating, original content instead of merely showing other people where they can find other distributors. In other words, the interests of the people who make content and the interests of the people who help people get to that content are converging.

Whether this is a preferable turn of events for SOPA opponents is up to them. I certainly hope it becomes clearer which providers are levying which consequences as the system goes into place. And from both a business and consumer behavior perspective, it would be great for notices to include information about where consumers could get the same content licitly, though that would pose a formidable technical challenge, and it might feel too invasive to consumers for ISPs to be monitoring their activity at that granular a level. There may always be some consumers who have no interest in paying for certain content, or supporting it by sitting through ads, an attitude I think shows very little awareness of what it takes for that content to keep getting produced, and ISP warnings probably won’t do much to deter those folks. But helping consumers who do understand that nothing comes for free find ways to give their money or their eyeballs to the people who produce and distribute that content—or to let them know when they’ll be able to do so if something isn’t available legally yet—could help change practices. Then, government could be in the position of advocating for well-intentioned consumers, while still letting internet and content companies develop their business models in an organic way.