Editorial: Entertainment industry should rethink business model to combat piracy

By The Beacon | March 27, 2012 9:00pm

(The Beacon)


Now that SOPA has been tabled indefinitely, anti-piracy advocates are beginning to take a new approach with the Copyright Alert System.

The Center for Copyright Information - responsible for the new policy - was established jointly by the film, music and television industries in partnership with Internet service providers (ISPs) in 2011.

Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable are expected to begin enforcing the new policy over the next few months.

Unlike SOPA, this new system targets individual consumers instead of websites.

With the Copyright Alert System, ISPs will start sending "strikes" to consumers accused of copyright infringement. The "six strikes" system is intended to warn Internet users about the consequences of content theft - whether inadvertent or purposeful - through emailing a series of warning letters.

After the fifth warning letter, ISPs can reduce a consumer's Internet speed or redirect the user to a Web page asking them to contact the service provider. ISPs also have the right to terminate a user's service or enforce other ambiguous methods they deem to be fit, according to the Center for Copyright Information.

If a consumer gets to this point, the consumer has the option of participating in a legal proceeding, costing $35.

The new policy may seem like a slap on the wrist compared to its failed predecessor.But it also assumes a copyright infringer downloaded or shared a work without authorization, essentially assuming the user is guilty until proven innocent, which inverts the entire idea of justice in America.

Though piracy is illegal, the alert system should be illegal too under antitrust laws, according to Ars Technica, a publication devoted to technology.

Antitrust laws prohibit monopolies and unfair business practices, while promoting competition in the marketplace. When antitrust laws fail, nothing stops companies from exercising private power in a way that exploits consumers.

The music, film and television industries have control over their content and can exercise this private power through the Copyright Alert System. These companies have leveraged their product to form an alliance with ISPs, who offer the content to consumers. Furthermore, in most areas throughout the U.S., local cable television companies offer the only high-speed broadband available to consumers, pigeonholing the consumer to only one provider and giving the provider free reign on how to enforce their new policy.

All in all, the Copyright Alert System is a joint venture between two powers with much to gain. They are willing to go quid pro quo in order to squash the consumer to earn more money. The music, film and television industries will be able to encourage ISPs to narrowly define what is considered an infringement and the ISPs will be more than happy to oblige, because the new system will mean ISPs can force consumers into using less bandwidth, saving them money. And, if a consumer gets to the point where a fifth or sixth strike is issued, the ISP can put money directly into its own pocket by claiming bad behavior on part of the consumer, without having to prove the consumer is actually at fault.

In order to stop people from online piracy, the entertainment industry should rethink its business model and comply with antitrust laws. If television networks opted to put their content on their websites, consumers would be less inclined to illegally download content. Networks could make a profit from posting their content online by charging for advertisements and consumers would happily go to their website because it is convenient and quick. Millions of consumers pay the small monthly price for Netflix and Hulu Plus because it is easy. It proves how far customers will go in order to conveniently sustain their TV and movie watching habits.

In addition, MOG.com, an online community that focuses on sharing songs, offers 14 million songs available for download on your cell phones and iPods for a mere $9.99 a month. Your friends can also listen to your playlists for free. If you don't have the extra $10 a month to spend on music, consider the free version of MOG or Pandora. The only downside is your music will be interrupted by advertisements.

The entertainment industry is here to do just that - entertain. Hence, it should focus less on policing its consumers and embrace new business models to keep consumers from pirating content.

The industry needs to acknowledge that the fight against piracy isn't going to end with the "six strike" system. Consumers will find different ways of illegally obtaining their desired content if the entertainment industry continues to avoid using new business models like that of Netflix, Hulu Plus and MOG.com. Instead of bullying the consumer, the entertainment industry needs to work on its business model.