ISPs Fight Piracy: Meet the Six Strikes

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The entertainment industry and major U.S. Internet Service Providers have concocted a new "six strikes" plan to combat, educate and punish people sharing copyrighted files online. Major entertainment companies including EMI, Sony Music, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Music, Universal Studios, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Music, and Warner Bros. are betting that the new process could reduce illegal file sharing by as much as 70 percent.

The new plan was announced Thursday under the banner of the newly formed Center For Copyright Information . The agreement is relatively close to rumors about a new antipiracy plan that were circulating in late June.

Based on CFCI guidelines, online pirates who persist in sharing copyrighted music, movies and television episodes will be sent a series of six increasingly severe alerts from their ISP. The alerts ultimately include punishments such as bandwidth throttling, temporary suspension of service, and copyright reeducation. ISPs signed up for the plan include AT&T, Cablevision Comcast Time Warner, and Verizon. Victoria Espinel, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, expressed support for the plan on The White House blog.

Piracy Costs

Online piracy costs the U.S. economy $58 billion in losses every year, including 373,000 jobs, the entertainment industry argues based on a 2007 study. These groups also say the evils of peer-to-peer file-sharing such as BitTorrent expose your personal data to viruses, and consume about 25 percent

Artwork: Chip Taylor
of global bandwidth.

Whether you accept these arguments or not, the fight to stop online piracy in the U.S. could directly affect you if you trade copyrighted material online. Here's a look at the six alerts the entertainment industry and your ISP have in store for those who dare to pirate on the open digital seas.

Six Strikes

It's important to note that for each of these strikes, a content owner such as a movie or recording studio has to send a separate complaint to your ISP that says someone used your Internet connection to trade pirated material.

Strike 1: You get an e-mail or other electronic notification alleging that someone used your Internet connection to trade copyrighted material. The notification will also include tools to help you secure your computer and keep your Wi-Fi connection secure from cheap neighbors or passersby; a handy series of steps to help you avoid content theft in the future; and links to legitimate online storefronts to buy or view licensed music, movies and television episodes.

Strike 2: You get another notification similar to Strike 1 or your ISP escalates action to the next strike.

Strike 3: Another e-mail notification, but this time it includes what is essentially a read receipt to make sure you saw the notification. The read receipt could include a link to an outside webpage or some kind of pop-up window.

Strike 4: Another alert similar to Strike 3.

Strike 5: Now we're getting serious. You get another alert, but Strike 5 also includes what are called "mitigation measures." These are essentially punishments, the worst of which is temporary suspension of your Internet service until you call your ISP to discuss the matter or review "educational information about copyright."

Illustration: Lou Beach
Of course, the new agreement doesn't say your connection will be suspended. Instead, the agreement says you will simply be redirected to a "landing page" until you contact your ISP. In other words, when you try to go to Google, Hulu or any other site, you'll always end up at a web site of your ISP's choosing that likely instructs you to contact your provider.

Punishments can also include temporary bandwidth throttling or "other measures that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter." ISPs may choose not to implement punishments at Strike 5.

Strike 6: If you make it to Strike 6, you get another e-mail alert and the so-called "mitigation measures" are now mandatory.

So enjoy reviewing those copyright reeducation materials or that temporary suspension of your connection. Or maybe you'll be lucky enough to take a trip down memory lane as your ISP throttles your connection and reminds you how slow dial-up connections used to be.

No Account Termination, but...

Under the new agreement, ISPs are not required to terminate your service; however, ISPs are required by law to have a termination policy in place for repeat copyright infringers under the terms of the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Act.

So while your Internet connection may not officially be in jeopardy if you make it to Strike 5 or 6, it sure sounds like termination of your connection is a possibility. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, "The content industry is staking its position that ISPs that don't terminate subscribers after five or six alerts will lose their DMCA protection."

You Can Appeal, for a Price

If you think you've been accused unfairly, you can appeal and ask for an independent review. All it will cost you is a $35 filing fee, which the independent reviewer could choose to waive. If the appeal is unsatisfactory, you could also choose to challenge the accusation in a court of law.

It's not clear who these independent reviewers are, but the content industry assures us they will have access to "expert advice on copyright law." Well, gosh, that's just swell, I wonder whose expert advice these "independent reviewers" will be relying on?

Privacy Respected, Unless . . .

The ISPs promise that under the new agreement, content providers will not be given your subscriber information such as your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address. But the ISPs will hand over your personal details if required by a subpoena or court order.

If you end up at Strike 6, the punishments never call for suspension of your home telephone line, e-mail address (presumably an ISP-provided address) or home security or medical monitoring services.

If you want to find out more about the new "six strike" process check out or follow the CFCI on Twitter.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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