BitTorrent Users Beware.

Recently I’ve been reading about the lawsuits being carried out on what looks to be like up to 50,000 Bit Torrent users by the U.S Copyright Group.

These unfortunate individuals have been descended upon by lawyers of the group – who, in this case, represent a coalition of independent film makers – and have been given two choices, either pay up in an out of court settlement or pay (through the nose) for legal fees to defend themselves in court. A few people have chosen the former, to avoid litigation’s excessive costs. But really in either case it sees the charged putting up some big money to pay for their ‘errors’.

Although the scope of the charges involves only a few fairly obscure art-house movie titles, the problems that arise from actions such as this are multifarious. A primary and most evident concern would certainly be the precedent set for other corporate media companies to begin asserting the same agressive actions on a prodigious scale- we could see these cases move from 50,000 to the hundreds of thousands.

This story isn’t the first of it’s kind, in late 2003, the American Recording Industry sued 261 people for sharing music on Peer to Peer (P2P) networks – needless to say this resulted in some severe public backlash, and essentially music industry heavy weights alientated its market, the very thing which supported these corporations in the first place. Surely, with the adoption of the same coercive and aggressive tactics, history is bound to repeat itself? I guess we can then assume why Motion Picture Association of America may be interested, but also wary of using these methods to address the issue.

The technology used, sourced from Guardaley IT, pinpoints real time downloads to particular I.P addresses. I don’t know much about this technology but it seems that amongst an array of ways a user could be misidentified, I.P addresses can be faked by hackers, leaving someone in the hot-seat with no idea how they may have landed there. Although I doubt how frequently this may occur it certainly brings an element of ethics into question.

And speaking of ethics we have to wonder now at issues of privacy, personal safety and accountability in the realm of the internet if this kind of initiative is adopted. And how many of users can be held accountable? If you speak in terms of general usage almost anyone and everyone who is sharing material on a P2P network could be held responsible- this would involve millions of people. In regards to individual user safety and privacy, users should know that I.P addresses being handed over by some ISPs are apparently being handed over at a price, according Mark Gibbs from PC World Online- up to $60 per account. Not only then is there incentive for entertainment corporates to bring forth action, but ISPs will have a strong financial incentive to give out private information at a cost. To be profiteering from information given out over legal matters, to me, seems grossly unethical.

In the context of modern digital culture, it seems once again big companies are using suppressive initiatives to try and exert control over the digital movement which shows no signs of slowing or even being able to be subdued. Instead this will only serve to add to the dysphoria of regular internet users who are already concerned for their safety and privacy in their online lives and as  mentioned before could only result in considerable consumer backlash. Surely this cannot be a solution to the issue of copyright and if the film industries think it is- it certainly is not one with much foresight.

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