ISPs to stop you from pirating?

The largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in South Africa have dismissed the idea of becoming copyright cops, saying that it is not their job to stop online piracy and protect the rights of copyright holders.

The view of local ISPs are in contrast to the largest ISPs in the United States, including Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, which have agreed to adopt policies designed to discourage subscribers from engaging in online piracy.

Since the agreement in 2011 the ISPs have gone quiet, but CNet reported that during a “panel discussion, Cary Sherman, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, said most of the participating ISPs are on track to begin implementing the program by July [2012]”.

“Many copyright owners say this could become the most effective anti-piracy program ever. Since ISPs are the Internet’s gatekeepers, the theory is that network providers are in the best position to fight illegal file sharing,” reported CNet.

Under the US system ISPs will send out one or two educational notices to those customers who are accused of downloading copyrighted content illegally.

“If the customer doesn’t stop, the ISP is then asked to send out “confirmation notices” asking that they confirm they have received notice,” CNet reports.

If an Internet user does not stop their alleged online piracy activities after the notices, the ISP has the option to impose penalties like throttling their service or even cut them off.

The same for South Africa?

South African ISPs are definitely not as keen as their US counterparts to become involved in copyright policing.

Afrihost director Greg Payne said that they don’t believe it is the domain of an ISP to police what users do online. “It would be similar to telephone companies policing conversations that take place on their networks,” said Payne.

Rupert Bryant
Rupert Bryant

Web Africa COO Rupert Bryant argues that while artists and IP holders should be protected, he has yet to see legislation that does this effectively because it goes against the fundamental structure of the Internet.

“All that ends up happening is that pirates circumvent the measures and everyone else is typically irritated or inconvenienced by the inevitable, unintended consequences,” said Bryant.

MWEB ISP CEO Derek Hershaw said that any intervention by government should strike a balance between the interests of all the stakeholders (including consumers, ISPs and copyright holders).

Internet Solutions legal manager Marc Furman said that while they recognise the importance of intellectual property, it would be imprudent for ISPs to take on a policing and enforcement role in this regard.

“ISPs are merely conduits of data and as such cannot be held liable for the policing and monitoring of customer content,” Furman added.

Cost a problem

A concern for ISPs is also the cost involved in the copyright policing systems. “This would be an additional cost for local ISPs and I think there are more important issues for South Africans at present,” said Afrihost’s Payne.

Derek Hershaw
Derek Hershaw - MWEB ISP MD

Hershaw said that “any planned system should also not place even more obligations on the network operators and ISP’s. That will invariably come at a cost which ultimately has to be borne by the end-user, and the Internet is already too expensive a commodity in SA.”

Bryant added that “the better approach is the content giants need to realize it’s not 1990 any more and instead of trying to turn ISP’s into their police force, embrace the future and the new ways content is being consumed.”

“If media is readily made available and priced appropriately, people will use it, the economics are definitely there. Good models to follow are how Amazon is delivering their content via the Kindle devices, Netflix or Apple with iTunes,” concluded Bryant.

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ISPs to stop you from pirating?