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Crime and Punishment: What ISPs Will Do to Alleged Pirates

Crime and Punishment: What ISPs Will Do to Alleged Pirates

The agreements that the movie and music industries recently signed with Internet Service Providers outline a particular course of action ISPs will take when they detect piracy. Responses start with email notices, move on to more forceful notices, and then rise to the level of throttling and forced redirects. Though it's not officially part of the agreement, termination of a user's account might also be on the table.

By Richard Adhikari
07/11/11 6:00 AM PT

The music and movie industries have obtained the consent of major U.S. ISPs to take steps to curb online content theft through establishing a common framework for so-called Copyright Alerts.

This is a system that the innocuously named Center for Copyright Information (CCI) -- made up of members of the industries named above and major ISPs -- says is a state-of-the-art software setup similar to credit card alerts.

It will alert Internet users when content that may have been stolen is identified on their systems.

ISPs will then take suspects through a six-step process of progressive alerts.

The CCI did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Re-Education for the Recalcitrant

People suspected of breaching copyright will get up to six emailed alerts notifying them that their accounts may have been misused for stealing film, TV shows or music online.

The CCI's FAQ page spells out how the system will work.

A copyright holder will send an ISP a notice that a consumer's account has ill-gotten content. The ISP will then email the subscriber a notification and warning.

If the subscriber persists in sharing content, the ISP may send a second similar alert, or go straight to sending a third alert, which will include a click-through pop-up notice, a Web landing page or some other mechanism the subscriber must read. It will then ask the subscriber to acknowledge receipt.

The fourth alert, to be sent to a persistent offender, again asks for acknowledgement of receipt.

The fifth time, the ISP will send yet another alert. At its discretion, the ISP may also take mitigation measures specified in its published policies.

These may include restricting download and upload speeds or redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter.

The sixth time, the ISP will send yet another alert and implement a mitigation measure again.

The accused will have the right to demand an independent review to determine whether or not the allegations against them are true. They will appeal to an independent body and have to pay a US$35 fee.

The CCI states that these actions, in essence, take place under existing laws. It also says that termination of a subscriber's account is not part of this agreement between the ISPs and the other parties concerned.

The agreement calls for ISPs to begin implementing the Copyright Alerts system this year.

"Now that the agreement is final, we will begin to develop our Copyright Alert program based on the framework in the agreement," AT&T spokesperson Margaret Boles told TechNewsWorld.

Another major ISP involved in the agreement, Verizon, didn't respond to requests for comment by press time.

However, there's no indication as to who will set up or staff this independent body and when it will be set up. Nor is there any indication of who will collect the $35 fee, what authorization that fee will be collected under, or who will audit the use of that fee.

Further, the agreement implies that ISPs who don't shut down offenders' accounts will no longer have the protection of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), wrote Abigail Phillips, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Sneaking up on Subscribers

The roots of the Content Alert system go back to late 2008, when the RIAA signed voluntary graduated response agreements with major ISPs on an individual basis, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Andrew Cuomo, then the attorney general for New York, began working on a broader plan under which major ISPs would agree to help prevent illegal file-sharing.

Whether ISPs actually cut off alleged content thieves remains to be seen, as the United Nations recently asserted that Internet access should be considered a human right.

"We're not commenting beyond our statement," AT&T's Boles said.


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