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Internet Providers, Studios Team Up for ‘Copyright Alert’ System

7 Jul, 2011 By: Chris Tribbey

Five of the nation’s largest Internet service providers, or ISPs, have teamed up with the nation’s major film and music producers on a new copyright warning system. The new system will notify consumers when they’ve downloaded content illegally, and then punish those who continue to do so.

Dubbed Copyright Alerts, those involved liken the system to credit card fraud notifications, with Internet subscribers warned up to six times electronically about illegal activity on their accounts. If an Internet subscriber continues to download illegally after the warnings, the coalition calls for “mitigation measures” against those accounts, intended to “stop online content theft on those accounts that appear persistently to fail to respond to repeated Copyright Alerts.”

The coalition stressed that no new laws are being established, and termination of subscriber accounts is not involved, though the agreement does call for “an independent review to determine whether a consumer’s online activity in question is lawful or if their account was identified in error.”

Adding teeth to the threat against subscribers downloading illegally, the ISPs have agreed to temporarily reduce uploading and downloading speeds, downgrade subscribers’ Internet services or redirect offenders to a warning website.

“Many people don’t realize that content theft puts jobs, and future productions of films, TV shows, music and other content, at risk,” said Michael O’Leary, EVP for government relations at the Motion Picture Association of America. “This agreement will help direct consumers to legal platforms rather than illicit sites, which often funnel profits to criminals rather than the artists and technicians whose hard work makes movies, television and music possible.”

Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Cablevision Systems all have signed on to the alert system, with every major studio, along with the Independent Film & Television Alliance, the Recording Industry Association of America and the American Association of Independent Music, also backing the endeavor.

“We hope that it signals a new era in which all of us in the technology and entertainment value chain work collaboratively to make the Internet a more safe and legal experience for users,” said RIAA president Cary Sherman. “It is 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.”

The agreement revolves around illegal downloads only, and has no consequences for Internet subscribers streaming illegal content. But those involved say the endeavor will put illegal peer-to-peer content abusers on the spot, and help recover the estimated 373,000 jobs, $16 billion in earnings and $3 billion in federal, state and local government tax revenue lost every year to piracy.

“This is a sensible approach to the problem of online content theft and, importantly, one that respects the privacy and rights of our subscribers,” said Randal S. Milch, EVP and general counsel of Verizon. “We hope that effort — designed to notify and educate customers, not to penalize them — will set a reasonable standard for both copyright owners and ISPs to follow, while informing customers about copyright laws and encouraging them to get content from the many legal sources that exist.”

Consumer Internet advocacy groups The Center for Democracy & Technology and Public Knowledge issued a joint statement cautiously praising the new system.

“Whether the agreement will meet its educational promise or instead will undermine the rights of Internet users will depend on how it is implemented,” the statement reads. “Among our concerns, we are particularly disappointed that the agreement lists Internet account suspension among the possible remedies. We believe it would be wrong for any ISP to cut off subscribers, even temporarily, based on allegations that have not been tested in court.”

About the Author: Chris Tribbey

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