Six Strikes Alerts Get Once-Over on Hill

Officials with ISP/Content Owner Copyright Alert System Outline Process

The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee held a meeting in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Friday for a public briefing on ISPs' and content owners' rollout last week of the six strikes copyright violation early warning system.

Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, AT&T and Verizon are all participating in the copyright alert system, which applies only to peer-to-peer pirates and is focused on education.

Jill Lesser, executive director for the Center for Copyright Information, which oversaw creation of the alerts, outlined the program, saying it was about "education, not punishment."

She said that, obviously, peer-to-peer was not the sum total of piracy, but that it was an area where the partners, which included studios and public activist groups, could come together to try and change attitudes.

Lesser emphasized that the ISPs were not doing any monitoring of content as part of the alerts. Content owners are those who notice ISPs about infringement. The ISP then sends the alert, and the recipient can challenge it if they feel it is in error.

She also pointed out that the program is targeted to residential users, and the alerts would not mean that ISPs' Wi-Fi hotspots would be shut down. Does that mean coffee shops could become a haven for thieves?

Lesser said most people are not working hard to game the system or engage in large-scale copyright infringement. "I don't really think there will be a spate of people decamping from their homes and downloading infringing content at Starbucks," she said.

Marianne Grant, senior VP, of the Motion Picture Association of America, outlined the notice being provided ISPs by its content owner members. She said most of the infringing content it is looking at comes from the BitTorrent peer-to-peer network, and that MPAA uses an outside scanning vendor to monitor for infringing content and send the info to ISPs. ISPs will not share the identity of the ISP with the content owner, she said.

She said that MPAA does not want to send a single notice that is not a legitimate notice, and to ensure that it makes sure the TV shows, movies, or music are correctly identified. If also makes sure that the IP address that is identified as sharing is correct, and that the ISP can be confident that if they receive a notice, they know it came from MPAA.

Grant said MPAA won't send a notice unless it has established its legitimacy and verified the infringing content.

MPAA said it starts looking for new content slightly before it is released because sometimes pirated copies are posted even before the TV show airs or the film hits the theaters.

Scanners actually watch the files to make sure they are not mash-ups, which don't get flagged, or compilations, but are in fact copies of Seinfeld, season two, for example, which would.

Alerts to ISPs include dates, times, file names and more, said Grant. Most of those ISPs are providing a summary of that to their subscriber. The alerts do not include the sites where those files originated, just who was distributing that file on a peer-to-peer network.

Jerry Berman , chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, said the overarching goal is an open Internet, which is threatened by bad solutions and bad behavior.

He said there needs to be a middle ground of protecting both free expression and content. He praised the alert system as a very different approach from the SOPA/PIPA legislation, which he suggested would have tried to lock down a legislative solution in a space that was moving too fast.

He said that while kicking the tires on the alert system, they found it was not creating a privacy nightmare and that the ISPs were trying to change consumer behavior rather than trying to "bring the hammer down." He said a lot of consumers, that when they know they are being watched, will stop infringing. "I think that is a voluntary and not a draconian solution and is worth studying. It would be hopeful to give it a chance rather than surround it with hot rhetoric."

Lesser said they are currently collecting info on how the system is working, but wasn't sure when it would be ready for the public to kick the tires.

Gigi Sohn from Public Knowledge, also a member of the advisory committee, echoed Berman. She said there had been great care to protect privacy and use lawful content. "They deserve credit," she said.

But she said there will be some "false positives," but also said that it the nature of the system, and ultimately they would need to decide whether the benefit was worth the cost. She agreed with Berman it was worth giving it a chance. She said no hubcaps fell off when she kicked the tires, though maybe there was a loose hubcap initially over the wording of the warnings. She suggested initially it might have been too much of a wagging finger, rather than education. The other loose hubcap may have been CCI transparency, she said, which may have led to some of the rhetoric and "conspiracy theories."

She said she expected that people after a couple of warnings will get the message, but conceded it won't stop the hard-cores.

Jules Polonetsky, director and cochair, Future of Privacy Forum, yet another advisory committee member, said one part of the system that privacy advisors were able to enhance was allowing people to file according to an account number, rather than having to identify themselves. "This team has done a pretty good job of privacy by design," he said.

Thomas Dailey, senior vice president of Verizon, said he agreed with Sohn that this is system is not going to stop hardcore infringers, saying the system is about changing behavior "where it can be corrected." He said that alerts to customers will include telling them how to find peer-to-peer files on their computers.

Brent Olson, vice president, public policy, at AT&T, said any delays in implementation -- the alert has been in the works for a year and a half -- were to "do this the right way," to make it as reliable as possible and as automated as possible. He made the point that most subs will never get a notice. He said the key is not just education, but empowerment.

"At the end of the day it is up to the customer what to do. We are trying to 'bend the curve' on behavior, opening their eyes and empowering them on what to do."

Olson said no personally identifiable info will be shared as part of the program.