Copyright cops want ISPs to hijack pirate's browser until ransom fine is paid

Rightscorp's Scalable Copyright scheme involves ISPs hijacking the browser of alleged pirates until the copyright infringement fine is paid.

pirate flag
Credit: Andrew Smith

Ransomware is such a big, booming business that even copyright cops seem to want a piece of the action.

Collecting money from copyright infringers is not as profitable as Rightscorp may have originally hoped, so the copyright enforcement company has come up with a new Scalable Copyright scheme that it is pitching to ISPs.

In a filing, anti-piracy firm Rightscorp claimed to have discussed implementing its Scalable Copyright system with multiple ISPs. Since receiving notices about infringing via a browser are not unheard of, Rightscorp proposed ISPs go the additional mile by turning those notices into browser-based ransomware copyright infringement fines. In essence, your browser would be locked until you pay.

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In the past, Rightscorp has convinced ISPs to forward its notices to alleged copyright infringers. The notices can warn a user that they may be liable for $150,000 in damages before offering to settle for $20 to $30 per infringing allegation. That business model, which has been likened to a “small step above outright extortion,” is not working out so well for the copyright cops; TorrentFreak reported the company has suffered a “net loss of $3.43” million in 2015. The company blamed ISPs, VPNs and changes in filesharing software for its record losses.

So now Rightscorp has a new money-making plan, according to TorrentFreak; the company is pushing its Scalable Copyright system. The filing explained:

Single notices can be read and bypassed similar to the way a software license agreement works. Once the internet account receives a certain number of notices over a certain time period, the screen cannot be bypassed until the settlement payment is received. ISPs have the technology to display our notices in subscribers' browsers in this manner. We provide the data at no charge to the ISPs.

With Scalable Copyright, ISPs will be able to greatly reduce their third-party liability and the music and home video industries will be able to return to growth along with the internet advertising and broadband subscriber industries.

Your ISP actually does have the ability to know a great deal about you and your browsing habits. If an ISP receives too many notices about an infringer and doesn’t terminate their contract, then the ISP can lose its safe harbor protection and be liable. How many is too many though?

While I’m not saying one-time infringing is fine, does that give your ISP the right to hijack your browser until a fine is paid because it is afraid of being held accountable? In the past, Rightscorp has been known to send 112 DMCA notices in a span of only two days; put another way, Rightscorp sent “more than two DMCA notices every hour over a single torrent.” Shady tactics such as this can quickly mark a person as a repeated copyright infringer instead of a one-time offender. Is that the type of ISP customer Rightscorp would identify as a “repeat infringer” and use as a hijack-the-pirate’s-browser threat or else it would attempt to wreak havoc on an ISP’s safe harbor status?

Unless you live in an area where there is only one ISP, then you can change to another ISP to avoid paying the ransom. Or stick with the same ISP and start using a VPN. Or, as Silicon Angle pointed out, it would only take a “small amount of technical savvy” for a person to “connect to the internet using a public DNS service such as that provided by Google.”

Even the Copyright Alerts program “limits the numbers of warnings that can be sent to single subscriber in order to avoid labeling them as repeat infringers too quickly.” ISPs are aware of Rightscorp’s tendency to spam alleged infringers and to label them as repeat infringers. It remains to be seen if ISPs will be keen to help Rightscorp hold a user’s browser ransom to pay for alleged repeated pirate activity without something more substantial like proof of guilt. ISPs that get aboard the plan to stop Rightscorp sinking ship would quickly make it to the top of the news; that ransom notice could be a deciding factor for new customers to steer clear.

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