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New Copyright Alert System to Target File-Sharing Users

16 Apr, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

Starting July 1 the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) will oversee a program that has the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) implementing measures aimed at discouraging illegal file sharing.

CCI will oversee the Copyright Alert system, a graduated response system that has ISPs warning Internet users who participate in illegal file sharing. CCI was created in September 2011 by five major ISPs, the six major studios of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Independent Film & Television Alliance, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and The American Association of Independent Music. Comcast, AT&T, Cablevision, Verizon and Time Warner Cable are the ISPs signed on to the program.

CCI stresses that the Copyright Alert system applies to peer-to-peer file sharing only, and “does not address other possible forms of online copyright infringement involving the downloading or streaming of copyrighted content.” However, the plan is still drawing the ire of consumer advocacy groups, who say it places the burden of proof of illegal actions on the consumer.

“One key problem is the arrangement shifts the burden of proof: Rather than accusers proving infringement before the graduated response process starts against a subscriber, the subscriber must disprove the accusation in order to call a halt to it,” writes Parker Higgins, activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). “Worse, accused subscribers have to defend themselves on an uneven playing field. For example, they have only 10 days to prepare a defense, and with only six pre-set options available.”

He said Internet subscribers were not included in developing the Copyright Alert system and called the Copyright Alert system’s final measures “Orwellian-sounding.”

The system works like this: Once a content owner, such as those represented by the MPAA and RIAA, notice copyrights are being misused online, they’ll contact ISPs, who will in turn notify the subscriber account connected to that Internet Protocol (IP) address.

“The alert will notify the subscriber that his/her account may have been misused for potentially illegal file sharing, explain why the action is illegal and a violation of the ISP’s policies, and provide advice about how to avoid receiving further alerts as well as how to locate film, television and music content legally,” CCI explains, adding that “Alerts will be non-punitive and progressive in nature.”

While first and second alerts to consumers will “direct the subscriber to educational resources which will help him/her to check the security of his/her computer and network, provide explanatory steps which will help to avoid copyright infringement in the future and provide information about the abundant legal sources of music, film and TV content,” third and fourth alerts will require consumers to acknowledge receipt of the message, via a click-through pop-up notice or landing page.

By the fifth and sixth alerts to a subscriber accused of illegal file sharing, the system calls for ISPs to institute “mitigation measures,” including temporary reductions of Internet speeds and redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP. Account termination is not required under the system agreed to by the ISPs.

Internet subscribers will be given a chance to apply for a review of their case, which will be overseen by the American Arbitration Association.

CCI executive director Jill Lesser, a technology, consumer protection and copyright expert, called the effort an “unprecedented collaboration” between content providers and distributors.

“I am excited to lead CCI as it begins this constructive effort to reduce and deter online copyright infringement in a way that is centered on education and deterrence, not punishment,” said Lesser, who has served as deputy director of public policy and director of the Civic Media Project at People for the American Way and as SVP for domestic public policy for AOL Time Warner Inc.

The reasons behind the program were underscored April 11 when the U.S. Commerce Department released a report showing that American industries that are intellectual property-intensive contribute $5 trillion (35% of U.S. GDP) and 40 million jobs (27.7% of American jobs) to the U.S. economy.

But the EFF’s Higgins contends the Copyright Alert system is the wrong way to go when it comes to protect intellectual property and copyrighted content.

“The final rub: Subscribers will doubtless be paying for their own ‘re-education,’ as ISPs pass on their portions of the administration costs in the form of higher fees,” he wrote.

About the Author: Chris Tribbey

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