UK ISPs Threat Against File-sharers – Will B&P Be the Way of the Future?

In light of the British government endorsed scheme of getting ISPs to send legal threatening letters to millions of citizens, one may wonder if this is simply paving the way towards disconnecting users from the internet – and if so, what will be left of file-sharing?

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Failing to invent a new form of encryption that ISPs can’t even see, file-sharing may simply move offline.

Predicting the future of technology is pretty much impossible, but it is fun to hypothesize what could happen in a worst case scenario. Currently, we know that ISPs in Britain have caved to pressure to essentially become copyright police on their own networks thanks to foreign copyright industry interests with help from British government.

It’s important to note that this isn’t simply a new form of a notice-and-notice or a notice-and-takedown scheme. In these schemes, the copyright industry sends a notice to the ISP and the ISP either forwards it to the customer or is legally forced to give up the customers private information to the third party (the copyright industry) so they can be threatened with lawsuits directly. The key difference here is that ISPs are not taking a passive roll of providing a service, but much rather, an active roll to basically encourage the financial ruin of their own customers thanks to the copyright industry trying to turn back the clock to the 1900s.

Obviously, the tactic is presumably to “encourage” users to use authorized services. Yet, when companies like Yahoo! decide to pull the plug on their music service, de-authorizing legally paid for content because the consumer got a new computer, p2p scam sites end up being quite a bargain.

While Charles Arthur of the Guardian notes that, for now, it’s going to be a massive letter writing campaign against alleged file-sharers, he also notes that a well-known blogger from the US was cut off for using too much bandwidth. It seems to be a story a few in Britain have been eying ever since the mass letter writing campaign was announced knowing that could very well be the next step.

Let’s assume that the insinuation is right and the next step really is going to be disconnecting thousands of users from the internet entirely – or at least a threat to do so. Would this end file-sharing? It’s possible it could, but not in the way it’s hoped because there is an old method of file-sharing that doesn’t necessarily require an internet connection.

Welcome to the world of B&P. This is known as blanks and postage. To put it simply, a would-be downloader basically buys a bunch of blank CDs or DVDs (maybe even Blu-Ray or HD-DVD) The next step is to send the discs to a would-be uploader with a request for certain kinds of content along with sufficient postage to send it back. After burning the discs, the would-be uploader sends the burned discs back to the would-be downloader. All of this is thanks to the general postal service. No way for an ISP to detect a transfer was conducted because it didn’t happen online.

It’s an age old system that predates BitTorrent. Frequently, users simply go to specialty forums to connect to each other. It isn’t very common-place now thanks to BitTorrent, but if file-sharing online becomes seriously threatened thanks to copyright industry pressure in more extreme ways, it may be a work-around to all of this for people in the most file-sharing unfriendly countries.

After all, who wants to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars on DRM music only to lose it because the service was discontinued anyway?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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