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SpaceX won’t tolerate piracy on its Starlink internet service

Published May 6th, 2021 9:23PM EDT
starlink piracy
Image: SpaceX

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SpaceX’s Starlink is the newest kid on the ISP block. SpaceX only has a fraction of the planned number of Starlink satellites in orbit and is still in its beta test phase, but it’s expecting the service to grow fast. But creating an internet service provider isn’t as simple as just throwing up some satellites and sending (arguably) obnoxious radar dishes to your customers. You have to be able to do all the things that ISPs do, like bend over backward anytime the government or other entity with a lot of money comes calling.

To test one aspect of this — the company’s willingness to monitor and warn customers that they may be downloading movies illegally — one bold Reddit user decided to disable his VPN and download some Hollywood flicks. As you might expect, it didn’t take long for Starlink to do exactly what every other ISP does and send out a strongly-worded letter about breaking the law.

Copyright holders — and this goes for movies, TV shows, music, games, and everything else — have a right to get paid for their content. Laws in the U.S. support this by allowing content owners to contact ISPs and inform them when content is being obtained illegally. There are many, many problems with the way copyright law in the U.S. works, but this part, at least, makes sense.

It’s then up to the ISP to decide how to proceed. The vast majority take a firm approach, send out an email or paper letter to the customer, and warn them that they could end up getting sued if they keep up the risky behavior. Some ISPs will go a step further and use a strike system. Once a customer receives a certain number of strikes, they may have their service terminated. The ISPs do this to cover their own butts, since copyright holders could sue the providers for failing to cut off a person who is using their service for illegal downloading.

In the case of Starlink, it appears as though they’re taking a firm stance as well. The notice the customer received after downloading pirated material reads as follows:

We received the attached notice from a content owner claiming that your Starlink internet service was used to download copyrighted material without the right to do so. To the extent that you believe the notification from the content owner was inaccurate, please contact the content owner directly. Note that downloading copyrighted content without a license or other right to do so is a violation of the Starlink Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). We must insist that you and/or others using your Starlink service refrain from illegal downloads of copyrighted materials. Downloading copyrighted materials without a license may lead to suspension or termination of your service, and put you at risk of legal action by the content owner. Please review the AUP to better understand what activities are prohibited.

So, if you thought Starlink would be a Wild West-style lawless land, you were sadly mistaken.