ISPs plan to hijack browsers and limit Internet access to combat copyright piracy

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Comcast has confirmed that it will prevent repeat file sharers from browsing the Web until they call the company to resolve the matter.

The move is part of a Copyright Alert System that was recently rolled out by several major Internet service providers. The system has earned the nickname “six strikes,” due to its series of increasingly stern warnings and punishments for pirates.

Service providers, who've partnered with the entertainment industry on six strikes, have some leeway in deciding how to enforce the system. In Comcast's case, users who don't respond to several alerts will see a “persistent alert in any web browser under that account until the account holder contacts Comcast's Customer Security Assistance professionals to discuss and help resolve the matter.”

TorrentFreak, which discovered Comcast's written policy, refers to this measures as a browser “hijack.”

Comcast isn't the only service provider with this type of policy. Last October, Time Warner Cable spokesman Alex Dudley told me that after four unheeded warnings, users won't be able to browse the Internet until they call the company. “The suspension is just to get you to pick up the phone so you can listen to us preach about copyright infringement,” Dudley said.

AT&T has a similar browser hijack in place, but instead of requiring a phone call, the company sends users to an “online portal” to learn about copyrighted material online, according to The Next Web .

Verizon's tactics are a little stronger. According to its written policy, on the fifth warning, users will see a notice in their browsers asking them to agree to a temporary speed reduction. As with all service providers, users can also request a review of the alerts they've received with an independent arbitrator—at a cost of $35.

Cablevision is the only Internet service provider that says it will suspend Internet access entirely. According to the company's written policy, users who receive their fifth or sixths alerts must challenge them within 14 days. Otherwise, Cablevision suspends Internet access for 24 hours.

In all cases, the big unanswered question is what happens after the fifth or sixth warning goes unheeded. Service providers do note that they will hand users' identities over to rights holders if legally required to do so by a subpoena or court order.

It's unclear whether rights holders plan to take file sharers to court—and the music industry says it stopped doing so years ago—but at the very least, the six strikes system provides valuable evidence for entertainment companies. If need be, they can use the system to show that users received and ignored several warnings. We'll finally get to see how this plays out now that service providers are rolling out their six strikes plans in earnest this month.

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