The nation's largest Internet service providers, including Time Warner and AT&T, plan to crack down on people who illegally download music, movies and TV shows online.
People suspected of illegally downloading files will get alerts and notices from providers starting in early 2013. Repeat offenders could see their Internet speed slowed down or suspended until they watch an educational video or take a tutorial on copyrights.
However, enforcers say it's only an educational campaign. They say Internet providers will not permanently cut off their customers' Internet access and will not share subscribers' identities, which content right holders would need in order to sue.
Verizon, Comcast and Cablevision will also take part in the anti-piracy effort, known as the Copyright Alert System. It was supposed to start this week but was delayed because the companies behind it are still conducting final tests on the strategy that will be used to catch offenders.
Internet providers will use a data analytics program called MarkMonitor to track illegal uploads and downloads to peer-to-peer file sharing networks, such as BitTorrent and Shareaza. Users of peer-to-peer networks can be located through their IP addresses, which are publicly listed on peer-to-peer sites. A team of trained professionals will verify that the file sharing is illegal.
For users, the process has three phases that have, somewhat erroneously, become known as "six strikes": In the first phase, Internet providers will notify users by email or letter that they have been tracked on copyright-infringing sites.
Second, the customer will have to acknowledge having received the notices, for instance through a pop-up window. That's done because in households with several people, the person doing the downloading may not be the one who got the initial messages. Third, users who traded copyrighted files will see their Internet speed slow down and could have their Internet suspended, depending on their Internet provider.
Stacy Zaja, a spokeswoman for Time Warner Cable, said in an email that for each of the first two violations, users who have downloaded copyrighted material will get an email urging them to read materials about copyright infringement provided by the Center for Copyright Information, the entity in charge of enforcement. The material may come in the form of a tutorial.
"The third and fourth emails will include a click-through message that will require acknowledgment that the user has received the notice and will stop the activity before their Internet service is restored to them. Restoration of service is immediate," Zaja said in an email. "The fifth and sixth email warnings will indicate suspension of their service is coming 14 days after acknowledgment of the notice, unless an appeal is filed. The suspension lasts until the user calls to speak with one of our customer service representatives. After that conversation, service is restored in full."
Jim Greer, a spokesman for AT&T, referred all questions to the Center for Copyright Information, which will be responsible for the program.
Internet providers note that subscribers are responsible for how their Internet connection is used, even if they didn't personally download any illegal content.
It's up to each Internet provider how to handle each level of alert. Not all providers have released details on their approach yet.
However, it's clear that hardly any penalty will be associated with multiple alleged violations, just some inconvenience.
According to the Center for Copyright Information, a user who gets six strikes is considered "out of reach" for the educational campaign and is taken out of the program. No penalty will follow, so there is no "strikeout."
And don't count on any legal action, either. Jill Lesser, head of the Center for Copyright Information, said it's part of the agreement between copyright holders and Internet providers that providers will not share subscriber information with copyright owners. So while content owners can easily obtain a publicly listed IP address on the computer used to share a file, they would have to file a lawsuit and subpoena the Internet provider to get the subscriber information connected to that IP address.
As part of the educational campaign, enforcers will learn which IP addresses repeatedly share illegal files, but that information won't be shared with copyright owners either, according to the CCI.
Enforcers said the education effort would not target dedicated "serial pirates" who are tech savvy enough to cover their identity electronically by using systems such as Tor, which sends traffic through multiple servers, or VPN, which scrambles the user's IP address.
It's merely an effort to educate "the vast majority of the people for whom trading in copyrighted material has become a social norm over many years," Lesser said at an Internet conference recently. She elaborated in a blog item Wednesday.
"Our goal has always been to implement the program in a manner that educates consumers about copyright and peer-to-peer networks, encourages the use of legal alternatives, safeguards customer privacy, and provides an easy-to-use independent review program for consumers to challenge alerts they believe they've received in error," she wrote.
Lesser said Internet providers will start sending out alerts in the early part of 2013.
The Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America were met with pushback from major Internet companies and the general public when efforts were made to pass aggressive anti-piracy legislation last year.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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