ISPs Will ‘Educate’ Digital Pirates

Alerts Flag Legit Content Sources

Online content thieves are officially being placed on notice, through a program of carrots and some medium-size sticks aimed at turning them into honest media consumers.

After more than a year and a half of work, five major U.S. broadband providers — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon Communications and Cablevision Systems — last week began alerting subscribers suspected of illegally sharing or downloading copyrighted content, under the media industry-led “six strikes” program.

Skeptics question how effective the Copyright Alert System will be in curbing piracy, partly because it is limited to monitoring peer-to-peer applications.

But backers of the Center for Copyright Information believe the program can persuade people to change their ways by pointing them to legitimate online content sources such as iTunes, Netflix or Spotify. That includes parents who are unaware their kids are pilfering gigabytes of copyrighted material, according to officials.

The alerts “are meant to educate rather than punish, and direct [alleged infringers] to legal alternatives,” CCI executive director Jill Lesser wrote in a blog post last week.

The CCI was established in July 2011 by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, music labels and TV and movie producers, in collaboration with the five Internet-service providers.

Initially, the Copyright Alert System simply warns alleged pirates. But starting with the fifth alert, ISPs may start to take more serious action, including throttling back a user’s Internet connection speed or disabling an account until a customer reviews policies with customer-service representatives. The program has been dubbed “six strikes,” but after the sixth notice subscribers won’t automatically be disconnected.

Most consumers will never receive alerts, Lesser emphasized. Those who believe they have received alerts in error can seek an independent review of the charges for a $35 fee.

“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,” Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn, who is on CCI’s advisory board, said in a statement.