Calder’s Corner: Anti-piracy 101

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By Calder Phillips-Grafflin

With the rise of peer-to-peer (p2p) systems like BitTorrent, and user-content driven sites like YouTube, internet copyright infringement has exploded as a problem.

While no one knows the exact costs to content owners, copyright infringement has affected almost all of the major content producers, especially those in the adult entertainment industry. Content owners aren’t the type to sit by and watch this trend, so they have gone to increasing lengths to combat infringement.

Given that many of you will spend parts of your break searching for torrents of your favorite movies and music, I thought I’d provide a little information about how content owners attempt to prevent and track infringement.

For content that’s been uploaded to a website like YouTube, there’s a reasonably simple way for content owners to take action, which (thankfully) doesn’t involve individual users. When a content owner indentifies an infringing video or song, they file a DMCA ‘Takedown Notice’ against the owners of the site.

Since there are severe penalties for not taking down infringing content, site owners usually remove it quickly. Luckily, since websites like YouTube don’t involve downloads, individual users aren’t punished for viewing infringing material.

It’s a different story, though, for content that you download or upload. For p2p systems, there is no central website responsible for the infringing content, so content owners go after the users instead.

In the past, this was a rather hard task, since few download sites kept a record of users. However, the rise of BitTorrent systems has changed that. Since every user is both a downloader and an uploader, other users can identify their IP address.

To ‘catch’ infringing users, content owners hire law firms like the U.K.’s ACS Law or the U.S. Copyright Group, who in turn hire smaller companies to search public trackers for infringing material. Employees then find infringing torrents and compile lists of IP addresses. IP addresses can be traced back to the Internet Service Provider (ISP), who is then subpoenaed by the law firm to provide the identities of users.

What do they do once they know who you are? In most cases, the law firms send settlement letters to users, threatening them with lawsuits but offering “cheap” settlements ranging between $5,000 and $10,000.

Since lawsuits can be extremely expensive, few of these law firms actually intend to sue users. Instead, they count on users being scared and accepting the settlement offers. This is even truer with adult material, where almost none of the users are willing to risk a public lawsuit.

While lawsuits are a serious financial risk to content owners, settlement offers are a cheap way of getting money. For example, if ten percent of the downloaders of a $30 film pay $6,000 in settlement fees, then the content owner stands to make far more than they would have from legal sales (almost 20-fold). That profit means that companies don’t worry about the other ninety of users who didn’t accept the settlement.

So, when you’re  at home over the break, you might want to think twice before downloading that new movie you happen to come across on the web, especially if you don’t want to be spend the  your future paying off settlement fees, along with student loans.

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