This week, the United States' five largest Internet providers — AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon — implemented their long-threatened, er, promised Six Strikes program. The move purports to be an educational tool to combat Internet piracy but is really just a way for your provider to charge you extra fees.
Under the new plan, ISPs will monitor your Internet usage, and if their Copyright Alert System (CAS, for short) finds that you're accessing media that infringes copyright, you will kindly be subjected to a fun range of punishments, which can include having your Web access slowed to Netscape 1.0 speeds, being sued by a movie studio or having your Internet service banned for life.
So what if it was your kid who did the downloading? Or some ne'er-do-well who hijacked your Wi-Fi signal from a creepy van parked in front of your house?
Luckily, the altruistic saints behind the Six Strikes program foresaw this circumstance and created a plan of recourse if you are falsely accused of copyright infringement: All you have to do is pay your ISP $35 to have your case arbitrated by an independent panel of their choosing.
Guilty until proven innocent, for a nominal fee.
For most of you, the Six Strikes program means nothing because you're old and don't understand the Internet enough to steal it — or because you're morally opposed to digital theft — so you are unconcerned that private corporations are now actively spying on your usage and using that information to levy fines against you.
Some of the ISPs are even taking an extra step and completely blocking websites that might contain copyrighted material — not unlike the practices of communist China or North Korea. But no big deal, Father Time, enjoy your Blockbuster video and rest assured that Comcast has your best interests at heart.
For some, however, the Six Strikes program means a drastic change in their way of life. Case in point: my co-worker Rory, an avid Internet pirate with a severe bout of BitTorrent scurvy.
The Six Strikes system went live 8 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday. By 8:03, Rory was kicked off the Internet forever. This is how he did it, in his own words:
"For my first strike, I wanted to go big and get their attention. So I pirated 'Iron Man 4,' which hasn't even been made yet. Don't ask me how because I couldn't tell you. I disappeared down a rabbit hole in UseNET and was somehow able to snag a camera bootleg from the future.
"The good news is the quality of bootlegs have improved immensely in the future. The bad news is that feathered bangs make a comeback. Needless to say, when I was able to pirate a movie that didn't even exist yet, it caught the attention of the Copyright Alert System, which kindly sent me my first strike notice: a text message that informed me I had been caught accessing copyrighted material. The time was still 8 a.m."
"I wanted to show the fine folks of the MPAA that even though I'm a pirate, I have a sophisticated side. So I downloaded an erotic French porno, which had subtitles and armpit hair and everything.
"My webcam was remotely activated by my Internet provider, and I was forced to Skype with some bean head down at the main office who asked me stupid questions about my preferences in French porno and wouldn't I rather pay for it?
"But the joke was on him: I was already downloading another French porno that actually turned out to not to be a porno, nor even French, called 'Oz: The Great and Powerful.'"
"At which point the bean head sent me my third strike notice, which was an animated meme of Uncle Joey from "Full House" saying "cut it out." The bean head said he was transferring my account to the cable company's new re-education department. The time was now 8:01.
"Not long after, I heard the sound of helicopters outside of my studio apartment. The sound became deafening. Then my front door was kicked open. A tactical team swarmed my bedroom/living room/bathroom/kitchen area, but due to the size of my apartment, most of them had to wait in the hallway.
"They were already too late. I had pirated the entire series of 'Law and Order.' All of them."
"My Internet connection is throttled to dial-up speed circa 1996. Electrodes are fixed to my temples by the re-education specialists from the cable company. They put sensory deprivation glasses on me that play a short film about the glories of copyright and the spiritual benefits of paying $15 for a movie ticket. They mean business.
"Because of my slowed downloading speeds, I am forced to get creative in accessing infringed copyright material. I download a picture of the Nike swoosh wearing Mickey Mouse ears. It's only 87 kilobytes. It is enough."
"The sensory deprivation becomes more intense, I am forced to repeat the following mantra by the re-education specialists: 'WAR IS PEACE. IGNORANCE IS BLISS. FREE INTERNET IS SLAVERY.'
"With all of my remaining energy, I download a One Direction album because I'm curious what all the fuss is about. It is the perfect soundtrack for the torture that follows."
"All of the electronics are removed from my house, and the re-education team scrubs my neural pathways for all computer and Internet knowledge. I can no longer Google, Twitter or Facebook. I am a blank slate.
"Long live the Copyright Alert System!"
Ryan Jackson is probably one Rickroll away from having his Internet banned for life, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.