internet downloads

Downloaders note—ISP Copyright Alert System rollout begins

Internet service providers are now rolling out a system to warn or punish users who download and share copyrighted content.

AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon are all participating, and will roll out their responses over the next two months. The so-called Copyright Alert System varies by ISP, but calls for gradually more severe responses to each infringement, starting with emailed warnings and escalating to throttled data speeds or temporary suspension of service.

For example, here’s how Time Warner Cable’s alert system will work, according to spokesman Alex Dudley:

  • Users suspected of copyright infringement will first receive two warnings delivered by email. These messages discuss the “dangers of copyright” and contain links to websites with legal content and with advice on how to secure a home wireless network.
  • If copyright infringement continues after the first two warnings, the next two warnings will appear as a browser page when the user tries to access the Internet. (They’ll also be delivered by email.) The user must then click through to acknowledge the notice; otherwise they’ll be redirected back to the warning page.
  • For the fifth alert, users will be cut off from the Internet until they call Time Warner Cable. “The suspension is just to get you to pick up the phone so you can listen to us preach about copyright infringement,” Dudley said. Users will see a message saying they have 14 days to appeal the suspension. (Appeals go through the American Arbitration Association and carry a $35 filing fee, which is refunded if the customer wins.)

Dudley couldn't say what happens if copyright infringement continues after the suspension phase. He noted that Time Warner’s terms of use allow the company to terminate service, but as far as he knows, Time Warner has never done so. The Center for Copyright Information, which is in charge of the alerts system, says that it does not call for termination of service for repeat offenders.

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

Consequences unclear

Still, neither the Center for neither Copyright Infringement nor ISPs have spelled out what happens if people continue to download or share pirated files, even after six warnings. The Center says it won’t seek personally identifying information about anyone without a subpoena or court order, and Dudley wasn’t sure whether rights holders would head to court to expose repeat offenders.

The idea of the alerts system is to avoid getting to that scenario. Dudley noted that Time Warner already had its own alert system in place, but he believes the Copyright Alert System is more educational and more customer-friendly.

Some advocacy groups oppose the system anyway. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for instance, argues that innocent users could become collateral damage, and worries that the system could open the door to more extreme punishments from rights holders in the future.

We also reached out to AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, and Verizon to ask how they’ll implement the Copyright Alert System, but did not hear back before this story published.

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