A welcome attempt to take down Piracy Shield, Italy’s pre-emptive and unfair Net block system

The copyright industry’s war on the Internet and its users has gone through various stages (full details and links to numerous references in Walled Culture the book, free digital versions available).

The first was to sue Internet users directly for sharing files. By 2007, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had sued at least 30,000 individuals. Perhaps the most famous victim of this approach was Jammie Thomas, a single mother of two. She was found liable for $222,000 in damages for sharing twenty-four songs online. Even the judge was appalled by the extreme nature of the punishment: he called the damages “unprecedented and oppressive.” He “implored” US Congress to amend the Copyright Act to address the issue of disproportionate liability. He also ordered a new trial for Thomas. Unfortunately, on re-trial, she was found liable for even more – $1.92 million. The RIAA may have been successful in these court cases, but it eventually realised that suing grandmothers and 12-year-old girls, as it had done, made it look like a cruel and heartless bully – which it was.

So it shifted strategy, and started lobbying for a “graduated” approach, also known as “three strikes and you’re out”. The idea was that instead of taking users suspected of sharing copyright material to court, which had terrible optics, they would be sent progressively more threatening warnings by an appropriate government body, thus shielding the copyright industry from public anger. After three warnings, the person would (ideally) be thrown off the Internet, or at least fined.

France was the most enthusiastic proponent of the three-strikes approach, with its Hadopi law. Even though the government body sent out millions of warnings to French users, only one disconnection order was issued, and that was never carried out. In total, some €87,000 in fines were imposed, but the cost of running Hadopi was €82 million, paid by French taxpayers. In other words, a system that failed to scare people off from downloading unauthorised copies of copyright material cost nearly a thousand times more to run than it generated in fines.

Since attacking Internet users had proved to be such a failure, the copyright industry changed tack. Instead it sought to block access to unauthorised material using court orders against Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The idea was that if people couldn’t access the site offering the material, they couldn’t download it.

Italy has been at the forefront of this approach. In 2014, the country’s national telecoms regulator, Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (Authority for Communications Guarantees, AGCOM) allowed sites to be blocked without the need for a court order. More recently, it has set up an automated blocking system called Piracy Shield. Rather surprisingly, according to a post on TorrentFreak, AGCOM will not check blocking requests before it validates them – it will simply assume they are justified and set the system in motion:

Once validated, AGCOM will instruct all kinds of online service providers to implement blocking. Consumer ISPs, DNS providers, cloud providers and hosting companies must take blocking action within 30 minutes, while companies such as Google must block or remove content from their search indexes.

It’s a very unfair, one-sided copyright law, which assumes that people are guilty until proven innocent. That tilting of the playing field may prove Pirate Shield’s undoing. As another post on the TorrentFreak site explains:

An ISP organization has launched a legal challenge against new Italian legislation that authorizes large-scale, preemptive piracy blocking. Fulvio Sarzana, a lawyer representing the Association of Independent Providers, informs TorrentFreak that the measures appear to violate EU provisions on the protection of service providers and the right to mount a defense.

It would be nicely ironic if the very extremism of the copyright industry, which always wants legal and technical systems biased in its favour, and with as few rights as possible for anyone else, might see the latest incarnation of its assault on the digital world thrown out.

Featured image by Stable Diffusion.

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