In a recent blog post, Jill Lesser, Executive Director of the Center for Copyright Information, responded to widespread concerns that the copyright surveillance machine known as the Copyright Alert System—or "Six Strikes"—would cripple libraries and cafes that provided open wireless networks. The title of said post: "CAS Will Not Harm Public Wi-Fi."
One key and enduring problem is the CCI's blinkered view of open wireless. Lesser protests that the "vast majority of businesses, including those like Starbucks that provide legitimate open Wi-Fi connections, will have an Internet connection that is tailored to a business operation." Well, maybe. As of now, few large Internet service providers (ISPs) allow for open wireless through their corporate Internet plans—and even then, it usually requires a special agreement between the business and the ISP.
In any event, the notion that some "legitimate open Wi-Fi connections" are protected provides little comfort. Open wireless can—and should—mean much, much more than services provided by deep-pocketed businesses like Starbucks negotiating special deals with giant ISPs. As the Open Wireless Movement aims to explain, the benefits of open wireless should be available in all spaces—commercial, residential, and public. Having ubiquitous access to the Internet through shared connections protects privacy, promotes innovation, and serves the public good.
Yet the copyright surveillance machine operates by sending users alerts that directly undermine this laudable goal. For example, the CAS process purportedly begins by warning users to ensure their "wireless connection is password protected." The message this send to supporters of open wireless is obvious: Big Content and major ISPs are working together to stifle the movement just as it is gaining real legs around the United States.
Everybody should have the right and ability to run open wireless networks for the benefit of themselves, their guests, and their neighbors. Let's not kid ourselves into thinking the corporate interests of copyright lobbyists are important enough to thwart beneficial Internet practices and policies.
Lesser herself admits the copyright surveillance machine will overreach, harming many small businesses that provide an open wireless connection:
Depending on the type of Internet service they subscribe to, very small businesses like a home-office or a local real estate office may have an Internet connection that is similar from a network perspective to a residential connection... The practical result is that if an employee of the small business, or someone using an open Wi-Fi connection at the business, engages in infringing activity the primary account owner would receive Alerts.
Her best response is a red herring:
Nonetheless, these small business accounts would not be subject to disconnection under the CAS any more than a residential subscriber would – termination is not part of the CAS.
Termination may not be part of the CAS, but that's not the point—the program still uses "protecting copyright" as an excuse to seriously hinder a user's online experience. For example, CAS involves not just "education" but also "Mitigation Measures," such as slowing down Internet speeds to 256 kbps for days—rendering your connection all but unusable in today's era of videochats and Netflix.
Lesser doesn't think that's a problem. As she told the radio show On The Media: "The reduction of speed, which one or more of the ISPs will be using as a mitigation measure, is first of all only 48 hours, which is far from termination."
But that's 48 hours of lower productivity and limited communication across the globe, based on nothing more than a mere allegation of copyright infringement.
Internet users, we have a choice to make about how we govern the Internet. We can aim to maximize the effectiveness of our infrastructure, encouraging secure open wireless networks and expanding both bandwidth and the number of devices that can use it. Or, we can decide that enforcing the copyrights of a few entrenched content companies is more important than having well-functioning Internet infrastructure.
At EFF, we'll choose protecting the Internet over protecting outdated business models every time. Join us.