In the face of declining revenue, US-based anti-piracy firm Rightscorp has announced plans to use ransomware-like tactics against alleged copyright infringers that would lock down a computer browser until a "settlement" fee is paid.
Touting a "next generation" technology called "Scalable Copyright", the company appears to be adopting a more aggressive stance to combating piracy of movies, music and TV shows commonly shared on peer-to-peer (P2P) websites such as The Pirate Bay or KickassTorrents.
In a recent filing, first reported by TorrentFreak, Rightscorp said: "In the Scalable Copyright system, subscribers receive each [settlement] notice directly in their browser. Single notices can be read and bypassed similar to the way a software licence agreement works [but] once the internet account receives a certain number of notices over a certain time period, the screen cannot be bypassed until the settlement payment is received."
While some service providers in the US already send out warnings to users if too many complaints are made against their IP address, no company directly asks for money to reinstate access to services. Indeed, many ISPs are likely to be extremely resistant to adopting such harsh financial penalties at risk of putting off potential future customers.
In any case, Rightscorp appears optimistic that it can convince ISPs to join its plan however the firm admits that implementation of its plans will "require the agreement" of the providers.
"We have had discussions with multiple ISPs about implementing Scalable Copyright, and intend to intensify those efforts. ISPs have the technology to display our notices in subscribers' browsers in this manner," it said.
To encourage the aid of the ISPs, Rightscorp said the system could help to limit their copyright liability – which leaves such providers responsible for repeated or direct infringements made by their customers. "We provide the data at no charge to the ISPs," Rightscorp said. "With Scalable Copyright, ISPs will be able to greatly reduce their third-party liability and the music and home video industries will be able to return to growth along with the internet advertising and broadband subscriber industries."
Rightscorp attempts to make money by working with copyright holders like movie studios, music artists and game developers to track the IP addresses of people who illegally torrent digital products. Once found, the firm sends out legal notices – via the ISP – and attempts to fine the offender or enforce payment via a legal action.
However, the company appears to be increasingly struggling to thrive with this traditional approach – reporting a net loss of $3.43m (£2.42m) in its 2015 financial results, up from the $2.85m net loss recorded in 2014. Rightscorp has blamed the rise of virtual private networks (VPNs) and a resistance from ISPs to work alongside them to combat online piracy for this consistent decline.