Five of the U.S.'s largest Internet service providers -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision Systems, AT&T and Verizon -- are collaborating with movie, TV and music producers to create a national network that will send up to six warnings to consumers starting later this year if their broadband accounts have been used to steal digital media.
The industry groups and companies behind the move positioned the Copyright Alert System as akin to credit-card fraud alerts, and spun the effort as a way to educate Internet subscribers who may be unwittingly abetting online content theft.
The National Cable & Telecommunications Association worked in an advisory capacity with the ISPs to help complete the agreement.
"Consumers have a right to know if their broadband account is being used for illegal online content theft, or if their own online activity infringes on copyright rules -- inadvertently or otherwise -- so that they can correct that activity," NCTA executive vice president James Assey said in a statement. "We are confident that, once informed that content theft is taking place on their accounts, the great majority of broadband subscribers will take steps to stop it."
Companies and associations behind the piracy-alert framework include: the Motion Picture Association of America and members Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment; and the Recording Industry Association of America and members Universal Music Group Recordings, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group and EMI Music North America.
Also throwing their support behind the program are the Independent Film and Television Alliance and the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), which represents 283 independent music labels.
Participating ISPs will begin implementing Copyright Alerts starting later in 2011.
Under the plan, broadband service providers will issue a series of up to six electronic alerts, notifying a subscriber that his or her account may have been misused for online content theft of movies, TV shows or music. It also will put in place a system of "mitigation measures" intended to stop online content theft on those accounts that "appear persistently to fail to respond to repeated Copyright Alerts," according to the CAS coalition.
The alerting system does not, "in any circumstance, require the ISP to terminate an Internet subscriber's account," the coalition said.
The "mitigation measures" -- which are not mandatory -- may include temporary reduction of Internet speeds, or redirection to a landing page notifying the subscriber to contact the ISP.
The system will let subscribers appeal for an independent review to determine whether the online activity in question is lawful or if their account was identified in error. The CAS coalition said the agreement establishes no new laws or regulations and that ISPs will not provide their subscribers' names to rights' holders under the alerting system.
The Center for Democracy & Technology and Public Knowledge were supportive of the initiative.
"Today's agreement has the potential to be an important educational vehicle that will help reduce online copyright infringement," the groups said in a joint statement. "A voluntary, notification-centric approach can sidestep many of the serious concerns that would be raised by government mandates, the adoption of new snooping or filtering technologies, or a draconian 'three strikes' approach centered on disconnecting Internet users."
The groups and companies behind the Copyright Alert System pointed to a 2007 study by the Institute for Policy Innovation that found content theft costs the U.S. economy annually more than 373,000 jobs, $16 billion in lost earnings, and $3 billion in lost federal, state and local government tax revenue.
The CAS members called out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for "his deep involvement and personal efforts" as attorney general of the State of New York to bring the parties together.
Currently, ISPs notify subscribers about alleged content theft but there has been no industry-wide standard for doing so. In addition to the warning system, the agreement also establishes a Center for Copyright Information to support implementation of the system and educate consumers about the importance of copyright.
"This groundbreaking agreement ushers in a new day and a fresh approach to addressing the digital theft of copyrighted works," RIAA president Cary Sherman said in a statement. "We hope that it signals a new era in which all of us in the technology and entertainment value chain work collaboratively to make the Internet a more safe and legal experience for users."
The Copyright Alert System members emphasized that many times subscribers -- particularly parents -- aren't aware that their Internet accounts are being used for piracy. Once they're notified of the issue, most broadband subscribers will take steps to ensure the theft doesn't happen again, the companies said.
The approach addresses online piracy in a way "that respects the privacy and rights of our subscribers," according to Verizon general counsel Randal Milch. The effort is "designed to notify and educate customers, not to penalize them," he added.
Both the Center for Copyright Information and the Copyright Alert System are voluntary collaborations among the companies involved, the coalition noted. Additional materials on CAS are available at www.copyrightinformation.org.
Also voicing support for the initiative was Arts+Labs, an antipiracy group whose members include the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), AT&T, BMI, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, NBC Universal, Songwriters Guild of America, Verizon and Viacom.
"Sharing information as outlined in the Copyright Alert System provides consumers with the opportunity to better control their online experience and to support the continued creation of the online content they enjoy," the group said. "We believe this partnership is an important action against online theft that threatens the continued creation of quality content and could undermine all users' online experience."
-- John Eggerton contributed to this article.