July 8, 2011

New Piracy Warning System Being Developed

A partnership announced Thursday between some of the country's top Internet service providers and big entertainment companies pledges to step up efforts to protect the rights of copyright owners, a move first reported by CNET last month.

The partnership includes Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), and others.

The coalition of entertainment companies, guilds, ISPs and telecoms said Thursday they will launch a new warning system -- dubbed the "Copyright Alert System" -- to tell consumers when they have downloaded copyrighted material illegally. Under the new measures, illegal downloaders could find their web surfing abilities temporarily restricted, though not have their Internet access terminated indefinitely, it maintains.

If that doesn't work to stop users from illegally downloaded copyrighted materials, ISPs can move to slow or limit Internet access for longer periods.

The Copyright Alert System "will educate and notify Internet subscribers when their Internet service accounts possibly are being misused for online content theft. This voluntary landmark collaboration will educate subscribers about content theft on their Internet accounts, benefiting consumers and copyright holders alike," the coalition said in a statement.

The film, music, and software industry claim that online piracy costs the U.S. economy billions in lost revenue and jobs.

RIAA and MPAA have tried for years to persuade ISPs to take a tougher stance on anti-piracy. The RIAA, led by CEO Mitch Bainwol, said in December 2008 that the group would cease filing lawsuits against individual file sharers and would instead enlist the help of the ISPs. These companies are recognized as some of the Web's most powerful gatekeepers. It took nearly three years to convince the ISPs to agree.

The new system of enforcement is much like the old system. ISPs will send out a series of warnings to illegal downloaders -- which many have done for years. But with the new system, if those warnings are ignored, the ISPs will then implement more serious measures, including restricting Internet access.

Those suspected of chronic abuse of copyright laws will face the harshest penalties, possibly having their Internet access blocked altogether.

Cary Sherman, President of RIAA, called the new system a "a significant step forward not only for the creative community, which invests in and brings great entertainment to the public, but for consumers and the legitimate online marketplace as well."

But the coalition maintains this is not a "three strikes" policy like that adopted in some European countries that bar Internet access to users who violate copyright protections repeatedly.

"This is not a three-strikes plan. It creates no new laws or legal procedures," Tom Dailey, Deputy General Counsel for Verizon, told Reuters in a conference call.

"Consumers have a right to know if their broadband account is being used for illegal online content theft, or if their own online activity infringes on copyright rules...so that they can correct that activity," said James Assey, vice president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, a trade group that represents ISPs. "We are confident that, once informed that content theft is taking place on their accounts, the great majority of broadband subscribers will take steps to stop it."

Coalition members portray the new move as an educational policy, rather than a punitive one.

Dailey said the system was designed to "educate and inform customers, not to penalize them."

Under the new system, users will be directed to a landing page after receiving five or six warnings, which will require them to contact their ISP or respond to some educational materials. Users will also have the option of requesting an independent review for $35 before their Internet access is restricted.

Alerts will be sent out under the newly created Center for Copyright Information, which will include the six major studios, record labels and Internet giants. Along with the MPAA and the RIAA, the Independent Producers & Distributors of Film & Television Programming is also involved.

It is possible the new coalition and alert system may never have been formed had US President Barack Obama and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who got involved in the negotiations as early as 2007, not pressured both sides to work up a deal.

Cuomo, then NY's attorney general, got involved because he believed that it was good for the state for two of the leading industries to get along and help one another, Steve Cohen, Cuomo's chief of staff, told CNET on Thursday.

Cuomo recognized that a deal that benefited both sides could be reached without lawsuits or any serious government intervention, Cohen said.

Cuomo, like Obama, argues that piracy robs US citizens of jobs and the nation's companies of revenue.

But not everyone agrees that file sharing has hurt those who create content.

Corynne McSherry, an attorney and director of intellectual property issues for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that advocates for Internet users and tech companies, said that scores of musicians have adapted to digital technology and are doing fine.

McSherry argues that the new system will create more problems than it solves. She has criticized the graduated response process, saying that someone's Internet access can be cut off without any judicial review is unfair. She noted that the ISPs and entertainment companies have said they will create an independent review process for those who claim to be wrongly accused. McSherry, however, is skeptical that anyone hired by those groups will be conflict-free.

McSherry said she fears now that big media firms have swayed ISPs into copyright enforcement, they will continue to pressure them to keep stepping up penalties against suspected file sharers.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the ISPs are under tremendous pressure and that's why they're knuckling under," McSherry told CNET. "But their first loyalty should be to their subscribers. Not Hollywood."


On the Net: