ISPs Kick Off 'Six Strikes' Copyright Warnings This Week

Comcast, TWC, AT&T, Verizon and Cablevision to Begin Notifying Suspected Pirates
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This week five major U.S. Internet service providers -- Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon Communications and Cablevision Systems -- will begin alerting broadband subscribers who are suspected of illegally sharing or downloading copyrighted content, under the media industry-led “six strikes” program.

That’s according to a blog post Monday by Jill Lesser, executive director of the Center for Copyright Information, the “educational” coalition established by the ISPs and the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, music labels, and TV and movie producers.

“Consumers whose accounts have been used to share copyrighted content over P2P networks illegally (or without authority) will receive Alerts that are meant to educate rather than punish, and direct them to legal alternatives,” Lesser wrote.

Initially, the Copyright Alert System will simply warn alleged pirates that illegal file-sharing has been detected on their account. Services providers will then point them to different sources of legitimate online content, such as iTunes, Netflix, Amazon or Spotify.

With the fifth incidence of detected piracy, though, ISPs may start to take more serious actions. Verizon, for example, will begin throttling the user’s Internet connection to a maximum speed of 256 Kilobits per second for up to three days (the telco says the details are subject to change). Time Warner Cable, for its part, plans to suspend accused infringers’ account, starting 14 days after a user acknowledges receiving the fifth-strike notice, until the user calls TWC and speaks with a customer service representative to walk through legal sources of media.

But unlike with France's antipiracy law -- under which digital pirates lose their Internet accounts after a third offense and are blacklisted for up to a year -- the American ISPs participating in the Copyright Alert System have pledged they will not completely disconnect subscribers.

Most consumers will never receive alerts under the program, and those who believe they have received alerts in error will be able to seek independent review of the charges, according to Lesser. The review program is administered by the American Arbitration Association; each review will cost consumers who have been accused of piracy $35.

“We hope this cooperative, multi-stakeholder approach will serve as a model for addressing important issues facing all who participate in the digital entertainment ecosystem,” Lesser wrote in the post. “From content creators and owners to distributors to consumers, we all benefit from a better understanding of the choices available and the rights and responsibilities that come with using digital content, thereby helping to drive investment in content creation and innovative services that offer exciting ways to enjoy music, video and all digital content.”

Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn, who is an advisory board member to the CCI, said the Copyright Alert System will be a “significant test of whether a voluntary copyright enforcement system can work while at the same time protecting the rights of Internet users.”

“The creators of the system have taken steps to build in consumer protections and fair process to the system, and it is my hope that it will succeed,” Sohn said in a statement.

But, she added, the ISPs and the content companies must be more open and transparent about how the CAS works and should provide data that shows how the system is working.

The CCI was formed in July 2011, with the signing of a memorandum of understanding among the parties. “As with any innovative system, the process of building the CAS has taken time,” Lesser wrote.

Lesser was named head of CCI in April 2012. Previously she was senior vice president of domestic public policy for AOL Time Warner and worked for civil-liberties lobbying group People for the American Way.