An article in the The Times has reported that we may soon see the introduction of a three-strike rule, aimed at stopping the illegal download of content, to be enforced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). This may sound like an excellent idea to some, but will it really work as intended?.

The proposed regime could require service providers to adopt a three step protocol to deal with downloaders of illegal content as follows:

  1. Send a warning email to the suspected user account on the first offence
  2. Suspend the users' account if they are caught again downloading illegal content
  3. Terminate the user's account if they offend a third time

On the surface, this makes perfect sense, in a two plus two makes four kind of way, but early reactions to this proposal identify some fairly obvious obstacles like:

  • How can ISPs prove the Internet account holder is indeed guilty of illegally downloading content, (especially in the face of things like bandwidth stealing or wi-fi piggy-backing)?
  • Implementing the three strike protocol will undoubtedly bring some cost implication for ISPs, in addition to the negative PR associated with effectively targeting their own customers (much like the music industry)
  • Finally the suspended or terminated user could easily sign up with another ISP, unless there exists some shared national register of offenders (don't get me started on the implications for personal privacy)

Disclosure: Yours truly just spent one of his allotted fifteen minutes-of-fame talking about this to Channel Five News. Suggested alternatives to the three-strike regime may include the pre-emptive adoption of a voluntary and self-regulatory process that is defined and agreed by the ISPs; or indeed the creation of better value propositions by content owners that can effectively compete with free or illegal content downloads (the BBC iPlayer is a prime example).

Overall, the three strike proposal may be yet another 'solution' (similar to past experiments with draconian DRM) that needs to be tried, tested and perhaps discarded on our never-ending journey towards attaining the necessary cultural shift, required by all stakeholders, to realise the potential of our connected world. Can anyone tell me otherwise?