What should be done about internet users who continually download pirated material over the internet?
A French proposal to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to suspend their broadband access sounds fair to me.
However, I would have some reservations about the cost burden which such a proposal would place on ISPs and the consumers that they serve.
The proposed new law
A proposed new law in France would require ISPs to terminate the accounts of users who download material subject to copyright protection in an illegal fashion on a repetitive basis.
Under the proposed new law, ISPs would be required to:
(a) reveal the identities of users who download copyrighted material;
(b) provide such users with two written warnings, (first by email and then by registered mail;
(c) cut off broadband access for a period of up to twelve months for users whose offences continued; and
(d) place such users on a blacklist in order to prevent them from subscribing to other broadband services.
Apparently, similar measures are under consideration in both Italy and Britain, although Germany rejected comparable proposals on the grounds of privacy concerns (refer report).
Illegal downloads are a real problem
Whilst some may not see it this way, the practice of downloading pirated copies of music and videos does represent a breach of ethics on the part of consumers.
Artists have every right to receive their full entitlement with respect to royalty income from their output. So too do recording studios and record labels, no matter how big or rich they might be. Piracy prevents this from happening.
In addition, illegal downloads also add to the cost of music and videos to those consumers who purchase the product in a proper legal fashion. Such consumers should not have to subsidize those who are unwilling to pay the small amount of money required for legal purchases.
Moreover, the consequences of piracy are real. In the U.S, the National Centre for Policy Analysis estimates that piracy results in the loss of: (a) $58 billion in annual output; (b) 373,375 jobs; (c) $16.3 billion of employee earnings; and (d) $2.6 billion (annually) in lost taxes (refer report).
Should the French proposal go ahead?
From my viewpoint, the French proposal would appear to have a considerable degree of merit.
Piracy is a real problem and must be stopped, but tackling the problem at the level of individual users is not a realistic option. Instead, I would certainly imagine that the problem can be tackled more efficiently and effectively at the level of the ISP.
Resistance to the proposal on the part of internet users may be somewhat understandable, particularly given the strong feelings of many against government intervention in terms of internet access and growing fears about ISPs becoming ‘gatekeepers’ of the net.
But internet access is a privilege, not a right, and those who use it have a responsibility to do so in a responsible fashion. This does not include illegal downloads of pirated music or videos.
My only two concerns with the French proposal would be cost (a) whether or not the policy could be effectively enforced; and (b) whether any benefits arising out of improvements in piracy control were sufficient to justify the cost burden which such measures would impose upon ISPs and the consumers that they serve.
Unfortunately, on these points, I am not really in a position to make an informed judgment.
That said, the French proposal is certainly the best strategy which I have heard of so far.
What do you think?