Meet the new copyright cop: Your Internet service provider

Watch out, torrent fans: ISPs have teamed up with the RIAA and MPAA to fight file swapping and throttle your Net connection

There's a new sheriff in town, and he's charging you $40 to $240 a month for the privilege of watching your every move online.

I am talking about the ISP police, of course.

[ Also on InfoWorld.com: It's not just downloading -- stream a YouTube video, go directly to jail, Cringely warns. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

For the past few years, record and movie industry lobbyists have tried to get Congress and international treaty organizations to force service providers to police their networks for "illegal content" -- essentially, to block users who download movies and music from BitTorrent sites and whatever P2P networks are still left standing.

Now they don't have to because several of the biggest ISPs in the country have voluntarily signed off on a plan concocted by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America that turns them into copyright cops.

Rather than snuff file swappers -- also known as paying broadband customers -- entirely out of existence, the new plan is built around the concept of "education." The plan gives downloaders plenty of notice; you get four warnings before the ISP starts to get nasty by throttling your connection or blocking certain sites and two more before they may (or may not) temporarily separate you from the InterWebs.

Feel like you've been wrongly accused? You'll have to pony up $35 for an "independent review" from an entity chosen by the Center for Copyright Information, a group created for the purpose of enforcing this agreement. What happens after that is anyone's guess; the CCI site doesn't offer any details about the process, though the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that saying "my unsecured wireless router got pwned by an evil downloader" works only once as a defense, which is seriously bad news to Internet cafes around the world.

This is the sequel to The RIAA Gone Wild, Part 1. You remember the RIAA's brain-dead plan to sue file swappers out of existence and/or scare those scofflaws straight, right? We all know how well that worked; the campaign also created legions of people who now hate the music and movie mavens with a vivid specificity.

This is Part Deux -- a less nasty option than suing teenagers, pensioners, and dead people, to be sure, but one that turns the ISPs into the bad guys.

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