Major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon - have agreed to help content producers fight piracy with a copyright alert system.
They will send a series of six alerts to their customers suspected of copyright infringement. The alerts will start with just a text warning, escalate to slowing down the Internet connection, and culminate in possibly cutting off the Internet access.
Why are ISPs doing this now? The NYTimes suggests it's because the ISPs want to become paid content providers, so they now have incentives to protect against content piracy.
They are, however, fighting a losing war.
Time and time again, history has shown that censoring natural demand is useless. It didn't work for the music industry back in the 2000s, it didn't work for alcohol during prohibition, and it's failing miserably for marijuana.
Content sharing is especially difficult to suppress because people have always stolen them. The Americans stole the work of Charles Dickens in the 1800s, people used to record music from the radio on cassette tapes, Internet users used to download music on Kazaa, and now they're on torrent websites.
This time, the ISP copyright alert system will fail again because you can't censor information and the Internet.
Instead, ISPs and content providers should take a page from 50 Cent and Lady Gaga. These artists have long realized that selling records just doesn't cut it anymore. Instead, they're moving on to merchandising and branding opportunities.
Or, ISPs and content providers can be like Netflix and Pandora and sell content by adding some value in their presentation of it.
However, if they insist on their copyright alert system, the only thing they're going to accomplish is enrage their customers and spawn the invention of new file sharing approaches that skirt their copyright monitoring tools.