How The New "Six Strikes" Anti-Piracy Scheme Could Ruin Public WiFi

It's almost here. The "6 strikes" anti-piracy scheme crafted by Hollywood and U.S. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is due to be implemented in the next few weeks. As the program's long-delayed arrival nears, we're starting to get a glimpse at how it's actually going to work. And it's not pretty.

Even if you've never downloaded copyrighted content in your life, the policy may put a damper on your Web surfing at the local cafe. 

Verizon hasn't formally announced its "six strikes" plans yet, but TorrentFreak got its hands on leaked documents that lay everything out in plain English. 

First off, for those who aren't familiar with "six strikes", the major ISPs in the U.S. have agreed to start issuing warnings to customers who use their services to pirate content over peer-to-peer networks. Details have been sparse, but a newly formed organization called the Center For Copyright Information (CCI) will send emails, voicemails and Web-based messages to alleged pirates. After six warnings, their ISP will take still-undefined punitive actions, which could include a slowing of network speeds (but never a total loss of service). 

How Verizon Will Warn Pirates

Verizon's alert system will start with an email and automated voicemail. After continued infringement, it will redirect your browser to a Web page containing another alert and an educational video about piracy. If that doesn't stop you from downloading Game of Thrones episodes and Skrillex albums, you'll get another warning and Verizon will temporarily slow down your Internet connection. If you do it again, it will actually leave you alone. The goal is apparently to spook enough people to put some kind of a noticeable dent in overall copyright infringement. With all the major ISPs on board, they'll probably succeed in doing so. 

One detail about Verizon's policy that should raise eyebrows is the fact that it will apply to business customers. If people pirate content using the free Wi-Fi at the cafe down the street, the owner may wind up getting copyright alerts and then see its network speed reduced. Even if some guy walks into the cafe with BitTorrent running in the background on his laptop and continues downloading files he queued up from home, the business and its other patrons could wind up getting penalized for it. 

Collective Punishment?

Even if it's only temporary, that could wind up hurting the business in what would effectively amount to a type of collective punishment for copyright infringement. For some remote workers, the interruption in service could be enough to change their cafe preference. For other types of public Wi-Fi, the whole thing could just lead to a generally crappier experience for people. 

It remains to be seen how Time Warner, Comcast and other big Internet providers will approach this, but the ISPs will presumably try to keep their policies largely similar since otherwise customers could jump from one provider to another in search of a piracy-friendly experience. 

For now, the "six strikes" scheme appears to be effectively toothless - in the long run. It doesn't affect the Internet in a deep and fundamental way, as SOPA threatened to do.

But it could still cause unforeseen problems by screwing with public Wi-Fi networks. 

 

Lead photo by mviramontes.