A new initiative to disrupt Internet access for repeat copyright violators is now live and running with six-steps of severity, from warnings to speed restrictions and finally "re-education."
The Copyright Alert System (CAS), which is backed by the U.S. government and the country’s major ISPs, has been four years in the making and follows on the heels of the ill-fated SOPA. Through a graduated response, suspected copyright criminals will be issued a series of warnings.
After four offenses, a number of "mitigation measures" will come into play that include throttling download speeds. CAS falls short of cutting off Internet access as happens in France and New Zealand.
CAS does not have the force of law and is backed voluntarily by the major ISPs, including Time Warner, Verizon, Comcast and AT&T. It is described as an "educational" service to combat casual piracy but has been heavily criticized for pandering purely to corporate interests at the expense of the average Internet user.
The Center for Copyright Information (CCI), which runs the program, says it will not terminate connection for repeat offenders but CAS does not prevent content owners from suing sharers once identified. The Copyright Act allows damages of up to $150,000 for each infringement.
Offenders will receive alerts that are “meant to educate rather than punish,” says Jill Lesser of CCI, and will be directed to an “educational landing page about infringement.”
Downloading movies and music from peer-to-peer services such as the Pirate Bay is easy to detect, as a user’s IP address clearly shows up. Pirate Bay is already banned in Britain.
However, research by the Pirate Bay and Sweden’s Lund University shows that frequent users already use some form of anonymizing service such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or proxy, and that around 70 percent of users plan to switch to these services once new laws are introduced.
“Some people may stop or share less when they receive warnings,” says Stefan Larsson, author of the reportLaw, Norms, Piracy and Online Anonymity. “But there will also be a group that will respond to the warnings by becoming more anonymous. A third group will try to find other means to share files than BitTorrent.”
In the ongoing game of cat and mouse, many file-sharers use cyberlockers, which include companies like RapidShare, where files are uploaded to a site and then downloaded by anyone with a subscription to the service. Dropbox is also used in the same way and these services are not included in the crackdown.
However, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America have been quick to spot files and have them removed.
Any of these services can be used with a secure VPN – effectively a "secret" tunnel where all on-line activities are screened – and this should defeat the tools employed under CAS. Free versions include FreeVPN andProXPN. A popular and fast paid-for option is VrprVPN.
An even better option is to employ a VPN and then make use of the Usenet Newsgroups, which are a bit like bulletin boards where anybody can post on any subject and anybody else can read the messages and download attachments. You need special Newsreader software and a low-cost subscription to the network. It can be installed on any operating system and in most modern devices.
The most popular Usenet Newsreader software is Free Agent, available in both free and paid-for versions. A network subscription costs US$4.99 per month upwards and gives access to an enormous store of digital material going back years, offering a better option than torrents for downloading without drawing attention.
Type the name of an Oscar-winning movie like Argo into a Usenet search engine such as Binsearch.ne and up pop several versions including screeners and BluRays as well as subtitles in dozens of languages.
Usenet – which has been around since 1980 – has been largely ignored by Internet users because it does not have the same glitzy appeal of the World Wide Web but rather resembles an endless list of discussion topics. Usenet is effectively Deep Web in that you need specialist search tools to find what is available.
Usenet can also defeat Deep Packet Inspection because it prevents the ISP from seeing inside the data by using secure 256-bit SSL encryption. Although your ISP can tell if you are accessing Usenet, once you pass beyond the curtain everything you there do is hidden from inspection.
It is difficult to see how these services might be banned under any future law as they have equally legitimate uses. The research at Lund, where 75,000 people were surveyed, shows that Internet users would rather see copyright holders move with the times, not charging so much and making it easier to keep and transfer purchases. Then they might not need Pirate Bay.