ISP: We Can’t Stop Illegal File Sharing

By Josh Catone
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A Belgian ISP, SA Scarlet, has told a court in the country that it cannot feasibly stop illegal file sharing following a 2007 court order that it must block or filter copyright infringing files from being traded on its network. The ISP tried both slowing P2P traffic and filtering it before eventually coming to the conclusion that the court’s demand was unworkable.

For every day that Scarlet doesn’t filter or remove illegal P2P traffic from its network, the company has to pay 2,500 Euros in compensation according to the 2007 court verdict, reports TorrentFreak. That makes convincing the court that filtering all illegal content is infeasible an important proposition from the company.

ZDNet in Belgium reports that Scarlet has refused to block all P2P traffic, since that would negatively affect legitimate traffic as well as copyright infringing file sharing. Initially, Scarlet attempted to slow peer-to-peer traffic on its network, but all that did was lead to customer complaints. Illegal files were still widely available, it just took longer get them.

Next, the ISP attempted to filter out illegal traffic using software from Audible Magic, after being ordered to do so by a court appointed P2P “expert.” However, according to Scarlet, the software didn’t actually work and failed to filter illegal files.

According to TorrentFreak, Scarlet’s initial response to the 2007 ruling was to make the claim that filtering P2P traffic would be illegal under Belgian law, which the ISP says doesn’t allow it to spy on customers.

Clearly, filtering and traffic throttling don’t work and really just end up aggravating customers. The better solution for copyright groups, such as SABAM in Belgium, or the RIAA, MPAA, and ASCAP, and for content publishers would be address the underlying reasons why people pirate content. As we reported in August, some of those reasons include high cost (people want to pay less), poor quality (people only want to pay for high quality products), DRM (people don’t want it), and ease of distribution (P2P is easier than going to a store). You can’t litigate solutions to any of those issues.

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  • if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em

  • I think it’s interesting when the situation arises where a person wants to see some content but it is unavailable to buy in their country. DVD shops aren’t selling it, rental shops don’t have it for rental, and their aren’t any second-hand copies available to buy.

    If the studio chooses to ignore that country in the release of their content, can they complain (much) when people in that country choose to download the content?

    And while it’s true that a crime is being committed, and they are using the ISP as the tool to commit that crime, can the ISP stop that from happening when legitimate activities are being carried out as well. Kind of like banning all driving to stop speeding, even though there were people who were driving within the law…

  • shmlco

    Let ISPs switch to pay-per-MB for upstream traffic and file sharing will drop dramatically.

    Sharing works partly because it’s free. But if you’re suddenly paying money out of your own pocket to share files with thousands of your “friends”….

  • Klas

    Absolutely ridiculous.

    To a degree this is nothing more than blatant exploitation. While trying to protect one (reasonably larger and much more established) corporate group, the court has totally outlawed another, who are actually combating the problem! (Steam, Blizzard etc all rely on P2P for legal distribution.)

    A cheap way of eliminating the competition, because you can’t be bothered adapting? I think so.

  • B

    shmlco: I’m glad no ISP I’ve used was ever stupid enough to do this. I upload quite a bit for legitimate reasons, for instance, putting files onto web servers. If comcast were to do this, I’d drop them like a hot potato.

  • @shmlco, what about gamers that play online. I play a lot of COD4 online and that uses a lot of bandwidth. I pay $50 for a high speed connection should I have to pay per MB because I like to play games and not just surf random websites? Your idea has a few flaws. That would just be another irritation to law abiding customers.

  • I upload quite a bit for legitimate reasons, for instance, putting files onto web servers.

    Exactly. If web developers have to pay for this sort of thing to carry out their job, who do you think’s going to suffer the most? Their customers, because those costs will need to be passed on.

  • mmj

    I think it is a gross injustice that ISPs are being forced into putting their own resources into policing the trade of copyrighted material on their networks. The ISPs never wanted anybody to illegally trade copyrighted material on their network in the first place, and certainly never wanted to end up in the middle of a battle between the music industry and its users.

    This poor ISP has sided with its users as far as it possibly could, until the legal system forced it to do the filtering, which undoubtedly has cost them a lot and has lost them customers, not to mention that it simply doesn’t work.

    Perhaps the answer is that governments develop a practical and fair system for ISPs to pay a small fee, of which part goes to the copyright agencies. In return they could become immune from liability in any file sharing that occurs on their networks. Well, it does sound like protection money, and it is, but at least it would be better for users.

  • SteveFS

    Well done SA Scarlet. If only other ISP’s would follow in your steps and take the same stance.