Legislation

ISPs can slow or suspend web use under anti-piracy program

October 23, 2012

Web users accused of piracy can soon expect punishment from their internet service providers (ISPs), which may range from educational messages to slower surfing speeds and suspension.

Announced in July 2011 by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), the Copyright Alert System (CAS) has been in a phase of “designing, testing and refining” to prepare for its launch in the “coming weeks,” Jill Lesser, executive director of CCI, said Thursday in a blog post.

“Over the course of the next two months, each participating ISP expects to begin rolling out its version of the CAS – a system through which ISPs will pass on to their subscribers notices sent by content owners alleging copyright infringement over peer-to-peer networks,” Lesser wrote. “Educational alerts will come first, followed by acknowledgement alerts that require the recipients to let their ISP know they have received the notices.”

ISPs that are on course to soon launch versions of the alert system include Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. The Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America will also help enforce the system by representing content owners wishing to notify ISPs of copyright misuse.  

Time Warner Cable has confirmed that it may temporarily suspend users' accounts under their implementation of the alert system.

Alex Dudley, a company spokesman, told SCMagazine.com on Monday that upon receiving the fifth or sixth alert – which requires acknowledgement on behalf of the consumer accused of pirating movies, music, TV shows or other content – internet subscribers will have their account temporarily suspended.

“The last two [alerts] are acknowledgement emails that requires them to click and say they've received the notice before their browser can be restored,” Dudley said. “It comes in an email, but the next time you log onto your computer and try to go onto your browser, you'd have to click through an on-screen message first.”

Time Warner Cable account holders would need to acknowledge they've seen the message and call the company before having their internet access reinstated, he said.

If consumers want to contest the copyright infringement complaint, they will have two weeks to contact the company, Dudley added. Time Warner Cable hasn't announced when it will roll out the program, but Dudley confirmed that it would begin soon. 

In the CCI blog post, Lesser said reports of ISPs terminating service were false, but that repeated alerts could result in a “slowdown of internet access speed.” A page on the CCI site further explains the steps taken by ISPs, and said that consumers might be “redirected to a landing page” until contacting their ISP.

“Contrary to many erroneous reports, this is not a ‘six-strikes-and-you're-out' system that would result in termination,” Lesser said. "There's no ‘strikeout' in this program."

Still, Parker Higgins, an activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who specializes in copyright law, told SCMagazine.com on Monday the nonprofit digital rights group is concerned about the Copyright Alert System. He said it could set the stage for even more repressive policies.

“This will be used as the floor for future actions and not the ceiling,” Higgins said. “The blog post that is up there now says that no ISP has that plan [to cut service], but if this proves to be effective, who knows if they will ratchet it up since they are already invested in the plan.”

If subscribers want to contest copyright infringement alleged by ISPs, there is a $35 filing fee, which would be waved if an independent review body dismisses the complaint.

Higgins said a similar anti-piracy measure launched in France, called the HADOPI law, has proven expensive – and even been deemed ineffective by critics.

Here in the United States, a similarly controversial proposal, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), failed to pass in Congress. But entertainment industry groups and media providers have continued to push for measures to help curb piracy.

In emails sent to SCMagazine.com on Monday, ISPs responded to inquiries about the details of their copyright alert programs, with some offering more information than others.

An AT&T spokeswoman said the company's program would begin before year's end, and confirmed that users would be redirected to a landing page, which would require them to review “educational material” on copyright regulations.

A Verizon spokesman said the company was “not commenting specifically” on its plans. Comcast did not respond to a request for comment.

Dudley of Time Warner explained what seems to be conflicting reports on the severity of action taken by ISPs.

“I think the point that CCI is trying to make is that no one is going to lose their account for good,” Dudley said. “What our program is designed to do is provoke an acknowledgement [from users]. Your account is temporarily suspended until you call the number. If you think you've been wrongly accused, you appeal.”

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