Internet Providers Launch Copyright Alert System

Computers Laptops iPads - H 2012
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Computers Laptops iPads - H 2012

Monday marks the start of a new effort to crack down on piracy.

Five leading Internet service providers are launching the "Copyright Alert System," meant to educate and mitigate content theft by Internet users. The program, in the planning stages for years, has been the subject of much negotiation with industry advocates as well as speculation from those concerned about how it would be implemented.

The five participating ISPs are Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner.

Content holders plan to monitor P2P sites and identify works that have been uploaded without authority. Notices are then sent to ISPs, which pass along warnings to its users. The Copyright Alert System has alternatively been called the "Six Strike Policy," thanks to its graduated penalty system.

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The first series of alerts sent to a user mainly serve to tell an ISP subscriber that someone has made content available illegally through their connection -- with some advisement on things that a subscriber may wish to do adopting password protection to avoid future notices.

Repeated alerts ramp up the stakes.

Each of the ISPs has slightly different mitigation measures. For example, according to documents obtained by TorrentFreak, AT&T plans to require repeatedly-targeted customers complete an "online education tutorial on copyright," cut off certain websites and after the fifth alert, share a user's personal information if a content owner wishes to pursue legal action. Verizon, on the other hand, will eventually throttle a user's bandwidth.

Since the content industry and ISPs began negotiating with each other, there's been concern raised on several fronts. Some privacy advocates worry about the ramifications of allowing ISPs -- and by extension, content owners -- the ability to peek over the shoulders of users. Others have raised worry about how the program will impact small businesses such as cafes and book stores that provide open WiFi access to customers.

Perhaps the biggest source of concern during the two or three years since ISPs first hinted that it would be rolling out a program of this nature was how ISP customers would be able to appeal strikes against them.

The Center for Copyright Information, working with ISPs to set up the protocol, is now pointing to a review process that will be handled by the American Arbitration Association. Those who feel they've been wronged will have to pay $35 for a review, although the money is waived if financial hardship can be shown, and refunds are given when appeals are successful.

The Copyright Alert System doesn't go quite to the lengths that some had hoped and feared. The ISPs don't seem to be prepared to terminate the accounts of those who are flagged six or more times. Other countries like France have experimented with a three-strikes-and-done program.

Will the Copyright Alert System do anything to dampen piracy?

NPR's Brooke Gladstone noted in an interview on Saturday with Jill Lesser, executive director of the Center for Copyright Information, that it was unlikely to catch the worst offenders who might use virtual private networks. Gladstone also brought up the fact that the Recording Industry Association of America filed some 20,000 lawsuits a few years ago in an attempt to educate and slow piracy. That litigation frenzy didn't abate piracy.

Lesser said, "I think part of the reason why (content owners) came to the table to do this kind of voluntary education effort is in hopes of having a different kind of approach and one that says to consumers, 'This behavior needs to stop,' but also helps consumers number one understand why and number two, find what they are looking for in a legal authorized way."