Drop that mouse and put your hands up!

According to The Times, a draft bill — known as a “green paper” — is being circulated in Britain recommending that Internet service providers become a kind of police force for copyrighted content, with anyone who shares such content illegally automatically subject to a “three strikes and you’re out” rule. After two warnings, the draft legislation says, they would have their Internet access cut off.

There are a couple of obvious problems with this idea. For one thing, it isn’t likely to stop serious downloaders at all. As Stan Schroeder suggests in his post at Mashable, there are any number of ways around the filters that ISPs might use to detect such illegal activity — including anonymous proxies, steganography and so on. Would all of those things become illegal as well? And how many illegal files would you have to share before you got the warning from your provider — one, 10, a thousand?

As Mike Masnick notes at Techdirt, this is hardly the first time this idea has come up. Not only did U2’s manager Paul McGuinness effectively come out and demand recently that ISPs police the Internet, but the French government has been considering legislation similar to that proposed by the UK green paper. But there has been very little discussion of whether such a move would even work, let alone whether it is advisable. I would argue that the answer is no in both cases.

Not only would turning ISPs into Internet police open up a giant can of worms — would they be filtering for hate speech or disturbing images or potential anti-government sentiments as well? — but criminalizing copyright infringement on such a massive scale is just wrong. It’s all out of proportion with the damage that is allegedly being inflicted. What we are seeing is the evolution of the content business, not a worldwide crime spree that needs draconian legislation.


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