Not long after the news broke that top Internet Service Providers had agreed to a deal with the music and film industries to adopt a new, graduated response to piracy, the White House threw its support behind the deal on their official blog.
Yesterday, the agreement that had been rumored for weeks was finalized. In brief, ISPs have said that they will participate in the efforts against online piracy by implementing a "graduated response," which basically means a penalty system that increases in severity with each infraction.
Except the first four measures are simply slap-on-the-wrist warnings to "illegal file sharers." Upon the fifth time that copyright holders flag you as a participant in piracy, the ISPs have the "voluntary" responsibility to implement one of many measures. Those include actions like the slowing of internet speeds and redirecting web traffic to designated pages pending the completion of an educational program on the ills of piracy.
Speaking on behalf of the White House, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel said that the Obama administration is "committed to reducing infringement of American intellectual property."
Here is some more of her statement -
The joining of Internet service providers and entertainment companies in a cooperative effort to combat online infringement can further this goal and we commend them for reaching this agreement. We believe it will have a significant impact on reducing online piracy.
We believe that this agreement is a positive step and consistent with our strategy of encouraging voluntary efforts to strengthen online intellectual property enforcement and with our broader Internet policy principles, emphasizing privacy, free speech, competition and due process.
As such, we will follow the implementation and outcomes of this arrangement with great interest. Our expectation is that the new organization created by it will have ongoing consultations with privacy and freedom of expression advocacy groups to assure that its practices are fully consistent with the democratic values that have helped the Internet to flourish.
Simultaneously, the Administration will continue to pursue comprehensive solutions to the problems associated with Internet piracy, including increased law enforcement and educational awareness. To win the future and succeed in the global economy, it is critical to protect the intellectual property of America’s innovators and creators.
The takeaway: To win the future, we have to prevent John Q. P2P from downloading The Expendables?
Another, more serious takeaway from this statement: With the administration officially behind the agreement, does it really fall into the realm of "voluntary" for the ISPs anymore?
With regard to broader issues like free speech and communication, do we really want ISPs having the final say on our "guilt" when it comes to filesharing? Do we want them to be able to limit our internet access based on accusations by copyright holders? And is it alarming that the White House thinks that they should?
As Nate Anderson at Ars Technica writes -
There's a huge, obvious risk to piling up the obligations on intermediaries, who begin taking action against people without court orders and in areas in which they may have no technical expertise. (While appeal mechanisms are available, the new infringement agreement is a "guilty until proven innocent" approach.) ISPs dealing with spam and viruses and DDoS attacks is one thing; ISPs dealing with copyright, speech, and fair use issues is another entirely.
Today's focus on "education" is therefore an encouraging one, but the "mitigation" measures ISPs will start taking raise key questions. How far we want ISPs to go in private enforcement actions that might target speech, communications, and even Internet access itself is a debate well worth revisiting in light of today's news—and the White House support for such approaches.
Folks on Twitter, for the most part, aren't too happy about the White House involvement -
What do you guys think? Should ISPs become protectors of copyright? Let us know in the comments.