WASHINGTON — Comcast and the other major Internet-service providers are about to take a page from cellphone carriers and start providing regular alerts to customers who illegally access content via peer-to-peer networks.
If that doesn’t work, those ISPs will warn about stronger measures, like slowing or redirecting Web traffic.
Comcast ran into trouble with the Federal Communications Commission in 2008 for its slowing and blocking of traffic from peer-to-peer fi le-sharing site BitTorrent, a move that helped spur the FCC to codify its Internet-openness principles, even though a court ultimately reversed the agency’s ruling. But this time around, it is an industry-wide effort — combining content providers and distributors — targeting only illegal content and aimed at warning folks who may not know they are pirating content via peer-to-peer networks before they reach the point of ISP intervention, according to Jill Lesser, executive director of the Center for Copyright Information and the executive in charge of launching the new anti-piracy effort, which will roll out across those ISPs over the next several weeks.
Lesser talked with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about the new consumer-alert program.
MCN: What is your background?
Jill Lesser: Law and technology policy. I was with AOL for almost a decade, leading their domestic policy team.
MCN: What is the Center for Copyright Information?
JL: It was an organization established under a memorandum of understanding between the content industry and the five largest ISPs to help do two things: Implement the Copyright Alert System and educate the public about the system and the alternatives for finding content online.
MCN: What was spurred this initiative?
JL: After what I would call disagreement over how to deal with the problem of peer-to-peer file sharing between the content industry and the technology industry, this was the culmination of a three-year effort to come to agreement on the best way to combat the problem in a voluntary, consumer-friendly way.
Over the course of those three years, as technology developed and people learned more about consumer behaviors, the goal was educating consumers with a system that was focused on reaching consumers where they can hear and understand you and then focusing on the positive side, which is offering alternatives for finding digital content.
I think both sides agree that there is an interest in decreasing piracy. The stars aligned after many years.
MCN: So, which stars have aligned in this?
JL: MPAA [the Motion Picture Association of America], IFTA [Independent Film & Television Association], RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America], and the five largest ISPs: AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable. Comcast and Cablevision.
MCN: When is this copyright alert system going into effect?
JL: The system will begin within the next several weeks. I don’t have specific dates because we are still wrapping up the technology development. As I think everybody knows, it’s hard to put hard dates on technology, but we are closing in on implementation.
MCN: We saw a story saying the system would be used to alert ISPs. We thought this was consumer-facing …
JL: The process is that the content owners generate a notice. So, they go out on a peerto- peer network and identify an IP address that is distributing the piece of content they are looking for. They then send that notice to the ISP, which then matches it to the subscriber using it and passes it along to the subscriber.
So, the copyright alert is a subscriber system, but the mechanism is kind of a one-way system starting with the content owner looking through their content and then passing on the notice to the ISP, which generates the alert to the consumers.
MCN: Why only peer-to-peer and not other types of illegal downloads?
JL: Really because No. 1, this was sort of what we could bite off and chew in this early stage of cooperation in this voluntary initiative. I think that the other piece is that, when you look at what the ISPs are best able to address since they are providing the connectivity, this is the area where they can be most helpful in passing along notices to consumers.
MCN: Could it be expanded to other forms of illegal downloads?
JL: We are hoping we will be successful in launching a program that is consumer friendly, that consumers respond to and that reduces piracy. I think that if it is successful, there is certainly an opportunity to bring others to the table and also expand the program, but it is not something we are in discussions on right now.
MCN: Is there an appeal process for those who think they have been incorrectly targeted?
JL: Yes, the process will be run by the American Arbitration Association, and it will be offered when they receive one of the later alerts and they can challenge the validity of the alert.
MCN: Your website says that after a number of warnings, companies can take steps to mitigate the situation, including slowing traffic. Can you walk us through the alerts and talk about how they escalate and just what mitigation measures are involved?
JL: The system is primarily intended to be educational and nonpunitive. There are five or six alert levels, depending on which company we are talking about. The first one or two are educational. They try to say: “Hey, you might not know you are doing this. It might have been done by somebody in your house for a variety of reasons. But here is the file that you have allegedly traded. Here are some ways to stop and some opportunities to find legal content.” If that computer continues to be tagged, they get a second phase of an acknowledgment alert which requires the user to say they had received it.
Once it reaches the mitigation level, the goal is to stop people there and say: “Hey, you have received for our five of these and we really mean it.” Every company will have a slightly different approach to what the mitigation measure is, but it is going to take mostly the form of putting people on a landing page and putting them through an educational video or curriculum that is very brief. It requires someone to go through it to move on and get online.
MCN: The website also talked about slowing broadband speeds as another way to get their attention.
JL: One of the ISPs is going to engage in a brief slowdown. So for a couple of days, you will see a reduction in your bandwidth speeds, but there won’t be any interruption of your service.
MCN: Will it also include blocking and redirection?
JL: You will try to fire up your browser and you will be redirected to some educational material, maybe for 10 minutes or less. And then you are free to browse.
MCN: For some folks, slowing and redirecting sounds like the sort of ISP conduct the FCC targeted in its open Internet rules. How is this different?
JL: I don’t think it raises net neutrality issues. We hope that the system works so that very few people get to this level of notice. The point in getting to this level is that you have had four or five alerts saying you need to stop this behavior.
This is not an issue of favoring one site over another or in any way trying to affect [consumers’] Internet service long-term. It is really intended to catch people’s attention and educate them briefly and then get them back on their way.
MCN: The program has gotten some criticism.
JL: We are seeing some pushback from certain advocacy groups based on incomplete information. That will happen, but hopefully the consumers we are trying to get to will see it as a positive move, and not anything akin to SOPA/PIPA.
I think, most importantly, for those people who are really concerned about SOPA/PIPA because it was a potential overbroad government change in the legal structure for the Internet, this is precisely the kind of answer that people will be looking for. It is voluntary, and in stage one, and is certainly changeable and nimble.
The Center for Copyright Information is launching a consumer-alert system on peer-to-peer piracy. Here is how the system works, including the SPS’s “mitigation measures” for those who don’t get the message. For more on CCI, visit multichannel.com/Oct29.
How the system works:
“[C]opyright holders will notify a participating ISP when they believe their copyrights are being misused online by a specific computer (identified by its Internet protocol address which indicates the connection to the Internet). The ISP will determine which of its subscriber accounts was allocated the specifi ed IP address at the applicable date and time and then send an alert to the subscriber whose account has been identified. The alert will notify the subscriber that his/her account may have been misused for potentially illegal file sharing, explain and why the action is illegal and a violation of the ISP’s policies and provide advice about how to avoid receiving further alerts as well as how to locate film, television and music content legally.
“For subscribers who repeatedly fail to respond to alerts [this system consists of four to six alerts, at the discretion of each ISP], the alerts will inform them of steps that will be taken to mitigate the ongoing distribution of copyrighted content.”
“Mitigation measures” could include:
“[T]emporary reductions of Internet speeds, redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter or reviews and responds to educational information about copyright, or other measures that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter.” — John Eggerton