Opinion: Forget Big Brother -- watch out for Big Entertainment

Newspeak from Hollywood and the recording industry has tech in its crosshairs

Last week, I discussed the doublethink and newspeak of "the Campaign to Protect America," an initiative launched by the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy as well as the shameful strong-arm bullying tactics of the Recording Industry Association of America.

My big concern about this coalition is that it isn't just about Big Entertainment trying to stop "piracy", it also includes the National Association of Manufacturers and Big Pharma on the pretext of addressing the problems of counterfeiting.

As I suggested at the end of last week's rant, the CACP ploy could be very bad news for us all because its goal will be to extend the law into all sorts of areas where we really don't want it, and I threatened that this week I'd look at what it might be able to do.

Here's the worst-case scenario: Consumer PCs would, by law, be directly monitored by ISPs to ensure compliance, and the legal consequences for any attempt to circumvent mointoring would make the punishment for murder look like a slap on the wrist.

"Oh, come on, Gibbs," you might be saying, "That's ridiculous!"

You think? Well, in Australia there is an example of a real foray by Big Entertainment into the lives of consumers. The customers of an Australian ISP, Exetel, have all audio and video content in their accounts automatically deleted every night. Exetel has been doing this for over a year, and its customers are informed when they sign up that this will happen.

But what really matters is why the company is doing this: According to Exetel's FAQ, the reason for the nightly purge isn't anything as sensible as space conservation, but what it says is its "hard approach to copyright issues." It is true that users can avoid losing their content by writing to Exetel and confirming that they have the right to store the multimedia content, but the real issue is that Exetel would become actively involved in policing content with all of the legal responsibility it would take on by doing so.

Remember Rick Cotton, NBC/Universal general counsel, who I mentioned last week? A couple of weeks ago, he actually suggested that ISPs spend more of their time spying on users and then added that the law be changed to remove the Safe Harbor provisions that protect ISPs when their customers have pirated materials! According to several sources, Cotton would like to see ISPs forced to use "readily available means to prevent the use of their broadband capacity to transfer pirated content."

My scenario still sound far-fetched? AT&T is on record that it plans to develop and deploy mechanisms for finding and removing copyrighted material from its network. If AT&T does do such a thing, then it is certain that every other major ISP, like the lemmings they are, will follow suit, and the consequences will be tremendous.

For a start, the RIAA's campaign to prosecute people they believe to be infringing on member's copyrights will escalate because it can demand that the ISPs inform them of infringements they discover. The extortion will ensure enough cash flow to keep the RIAA's legal machine in top gear.

From there, mandatory monitoring of your Internet connection and then your home PC is just a few short steps away.

So, does my worst case scenario still sound ridiculous?

This story, "Opinion: Forget Big Brother -- watch out for Big Entertainment" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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