Should copyright infringers be disconnected?

Responsible consumerism 14 Comments

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?

14 Responses to “Should copyright infringers be disconnected?”

  1. Brad Shorr Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Andrew, This is quite a problem. No doubt, those so inclined will find ways to use technology to get around whatever laws are enacted. Ultimately, the music industry is going to have to find ways of generating revenue that are compatible with open access to information. My wife and I went to a Morrissey concert earlier this month – he was selling T-shirts for, I think, $45 each. And selling quite a few of them! Maybe artists and their labels can take advantage of the open nature of digital music for merchandising products and selling concert tickets on a wider scale. I don’t know if that’s enough, but maybe it could be.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Influence Customers with Meaningful Terms in Meta Descriptions

  2. Andrew Says:
    April 24th, 2009 at 9:49 pm


    Good lateral thinking – they may be able to pirate a copy of a song, but they cannot replace genuine merchandise which has been duly autographed by the artists/band/actors.

    Another solution, of course, are methods of providing legal downloading services, and in this regard, it is most encouraging to see you internet users have embraced the legal model provided by Apple’s I-Tunes.

    Andrews last blog post..Should copyright infringers be disconnected?

  3. Salwa Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 12:07 am

    This is a real problem indeed and I agree with Brad on the comment above that new ways to outsmart them will be developed. P2P geniuses will provide another solution to prevent the law from monitoring users.

    What I think this law is trying to do is “nudge” people into using legal services, not kick them off the internet. But there has to be some sanction at the end otherwise why would people give up illegal, free music to move to services that actually pay performers, producers and songwriters?

    There’s plenty of decent services out there: iTunes,, Spotify, Nokia Comes with Music etc. You can listen to millions of tracks for free on Spotify. You can buy and keep downloaded singles from 29p on That’s not bad value for all the investment in artists and the promotional budgets needed to bring their music to your attention.

    Salwas last blog post..The Mass Media Marketing Marathon

  4. Mark Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 1:35 am

    I think that while in principle this makes sense that the difficult part would be in enforcement. The enforcement of this may cost more than it is worth in the end.

    Marks last blog post..Preparing for Mourning

  5. Fred H Schlegel Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Hi Andrew – after pirates of all types these days I see.

    I find it interesting that the law focuses on those who acquire vs those who make available the material. It’s a large problem, which needs a solution so that we can continue to have high quality content produced. Hollywood and TV need the high margins of cable and broadcast for mass appeal product. While more niche product can survive without, I would hate to lose Chuck or NCIS or some of the other programs I enjoy because of piracy.

    One real issue with the way they are trying to structure the law is that the folks who acquire do not have the pocketbook to defend themselves from fraudulent claims in the same way providers do. And if a few claims can remove your access to what has become an indispensable source of communication, I think there really have to be signifiant protections built into the law.

    Fred H Schlegels last blog post..Physics and Ideation: Creativity and Mismatched Socks

  6. Giovanna Garcia Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Hi Andrew,
    You always provide good insight, and topics to discuss.

    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  7. Andrew Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 10:53 am


    You are exactly right, the objective of the proposed new law is not to deny people the right of internet access, but instead to teach them to use the internet in an ethical and responsible fashion, not for the downloading of illegal copies of pirated material.

    You are certainly right in saying that there is no shortage of legal services out there, and I do not think it is too much to ask to expect consumers to invest the small amount of money required to make legal online purchases of books, music and videos.


    I guess that’s the main concern with this new law, and one does wonder whether any benefits gained in terms of reductions in piracy would outweigh the no doubt significant level of cost involved in terms of enforcement of the new law.


    Ha ha! Good pick up! I suppose it is somewhat ironic (although completely accidental) that the last two discussions have focused around ‘pirates’ in different senses of the word.

    Piracy, as you say, represents not only an increased cost to consumers, but also a threat to the viability of some of our favorite films and shows. This is particularly the case for films or programs which cost a large amount of money to produce (often, but not always, the best quality productions).

    In this way, piracy represents a real threat to consumers.

    With regards to your comment about going after those who acquire the material as opposed to those who make it, I think one of the reasons why countries do this is for jurisdictional reasons. In the case of the French proposal mentioned above, many of the manufacturers of pirated material would operate in different countries and would be outside the reach of French law. French consumers and Internet Service Providers, on the other hand, are bound by French law and it makes more sense for lawmakers in France to set regulations to attempt to apply legislation at the consumer and ISP level, where there would be no issues about legal jurisdiction.

    That said, I agree that the new law would have to have some protection for consumers against fraudulent claims.


    Thanks, I’m glad to hear that you enjoy the discussions here.

    Likewise, the same can be said for discussions on your own blog, and it is a privilege for me to participate in your discussions.

    Andrews last blog post..Should copyright infringers be disconnected?

  8. tom Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Let’s face it, cutting people off from internet access is going to hurt the ISP, where it hurts the most.

    And you can’t teach people a lesson that way either because either they will find another way to get internet access again, and there are plenty of ways.

    toms last blog post..Bad Advice: Let’s go shopping for useless crap!

  9. Andrew Says:
    April 25th, 2009 at 6:52 pm


    I can see your point. Anytime an ISP cuts off a subscriber, they forfeit the revenue associated with the subscriber concerned.

    Even more painful for ISPs, I would have thought, would be the costs associated with enforcement of the plan, especially any labor costs required in the process of monitoring and follow up of users who download unathorized material.

    With regard to your second point, I would have thought that you needed an ISP to gain access to the internet. Is this not correct? Are there ways to gain access to the net without an ISP?

    Andrews last blog post..Should copyright infringers be disconnected?

  10. Natural Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 11:33 am

    if you steal or download something that you didn’t pay for, you should do the time.

    i think the french proposal would work well. i do believe in giving everyone a warning, so you’ll get 1 warning to stop. next time you get picked up.

  11. Andrew Says:
    April 28th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Hi Natural.

    I agree that the practice is wrong and that there should be consequences for those who download pirated material on a repetitive basis.

    The French proposal seems more than fair to me, and assuming that it can be implemented in an effective manner without placing an excessive burden on ISPs then I hope that it passes through the legislature in Paris and becomes law.

    Andrews last blog post..Should copyright infringers be disconnected?

  12. Meg Says:
    May 6th, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Seems like a good way to deal with it, the punishment fits the crime and there’s less burden on courts to try to prosecute downloaders. I do see an issue with finding illegal downloaders and the possibility that folks getting legit games or DLCs would set off warning flags and cost unlucky people their net connection, but I suppose the problem with any legal plan is the enforcing. Interesting to think about, anyway.

    Megs last blog post..Checking Out At The Library

  13. Andrew Says:
    May 8th, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Hi Meg,

    Interesting viewpoint – I never thought about the possibility of innocent people having their connections terminated by mistake.

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    May 8th, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    [...] Should copyright infringers be disconnected [...]

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