Legal Illegal Downloads

My ISP (formerly ntl), just changed my IP address. That just doesn’t happen that often. I only noticed because my OpenDNS shortcuts were no longer working and I had to login to update my network settings. Like I say, it doesn’t happened often, not even when all my networking kits and cable modem are switched off during a vacation.

So, what’s going on?

I wonder if this ties in, not with torrent throttling, but maybe the ISP being approached by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the UK equivalent of the RIAA. Apparently, they’re hoping to put in place a three-strikes-and-your-out system (which may become law in the UK if the voluntary code is not adopted and enforced widely by ISPs) for file sharers who break copyright law.

Maybe they’ve acceded to the BPI, in which case they’ve re-set the IP addresses so that the BPI spooks monitoring bit torrents, can more easily spot abusers. However, it could be a sign that the ISP is siding, not with the BPI, but with the file sharers themselves, providing a pseudo-dynamic IP address so that it becomes next to impossible for any external spies to keep up with the activities of file sharers on its system.

After all, file sharing is probably one of the primary motivators for people switching to ever-faster broadband services. Without file sharing, the vast majority would see little point in being on broadband at all and the ISP perhaps fears a fall in its customerbase. That would be especially true if they were all in jail on copyright fraud charges and the ISP will, of course, have to vie with ADSL suppliers for the prisons contract.

Any insights into such matters from readers would be gratefully received, although I am currently attempting to get back in touch with my guy on the inside to find out more.

I am not advocating anyone do any illegal filesharing, but the definition of what is and isn’t legal depends on the law, not on industry proclamations or ISP threats. So, here are a few, if not watertight, then certainly wax-coated Goretex, defences you may use when the goons come a’calling:

  1. There are thousands of legal torrents and files you may be sharing with P2P networks, so high bandwidth usage is not an indication of illegal activity on your part.
  2. Torrents are not labelled as legal or illegal, how could you as a downloader know that something being shared on a P2P system is breaking anyone’s copyright, especially given #1.
  3. The movie and record industries have in the past uploaded their own copyright materials as honeytraps on to P2P systems. Given that the implicit license in using such systems is that you are obliged to share what you upload, then by using the P2P programs, the industries have essentially granted “fellow users” permission to share these materials too
  4. There are fair use rules in law that allow you to download copyright files for your own personal use for which you have original legitimate hard copies, although these are not present in English law because such fair use would not lead to loss that would require damages, so there is actually no legal requirement.
  5. Investigation by BPI/RIAA/ISP of your internet traffic could be in breach of data protection and consumer privacy laws. Indeed, if you’re using https then they could inadvertently access data on your machine/server that is legal but that their accessing would be illegal on their part.
  6. Modems can and have been cloned, someone else could theoretically be presenting an internet identity and IP and Mac address the same as yours, how would the ISP differentiate the two, similarly someone could readily spoof your account, they could even make it look like a printer or other device were downloading.
  7. If the industry cannot prove conclusively that you have downloaded illegally, but has nevertheless made this claim to your ISP who may have sent you a warning letter, then you may have a case for liable against the industry.
  8. File names can be spoofed. Just because you download a file named “Indiana-Crystal.avi” doesn’t mean that file is a pirated copy of the latest Indiana Jones movie, it could just as easily be a home movie of your cousin’s kids playing Indy, or a legitimate download-allowed trailer of the movie.
  9. It’s easy for someone to illicitly use your wireless network without your knowledge, if you were unaware that it should be encrypted and closed for the sake of security.

For a whole lot more on what this particular ISP is allegedly doing, take a look at The Register. Personally, I think it’s a big publicity stunt to get media attention, assuage the BPI, and to ward off putative legislation that would make broadband pointless for the vast majority of users and so cut their profits.

Author: David Bradley

Freelance science journalist, author of Deceived Wisdom. Photographer and musician.