ISPs roll out six strikes program this week

If your Internet connection starts slowing down over the next few days, don’t check your wireless router, check if someone in your home is pirating movies, TV shows or music. This week, the five major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the U.S. will roll out the Copyright Alert System (CAS), also known as the six strikes program.

The long-anticipated anti-piracy measure is the entertainment industry’s controversial attempt to convince American Internet users to purchase digital content instead of downloading it for free via peer-to-peer file sharing networks.

First conceived in 2011, the six strikes plan was supposed to go into effect at the end of that year, but was pushed back to July 2012, then to late 2012, and then again to early 2013. On Monday, however, the plan finally goes into effect.

“I am pleased to announce that today marks the beginning of the implementation phase of the Copyright Alert System,” said Jill Lesser, Executive Director of the Center for Copyright Information (CCI). “Implementation marks the culmination of many months of work on this groundbreaking and collaborative effort to curb online piracy and promote the lawful use of digital music, movies and TV shows.”

That’s a long-winded way of saying copyright holders will begin sending complaints to major ISPs that will in turn begin sending out copyright warnings to alleged infringers. Each ISP is expected to implement the six strikes program according to its own schedule sometime this week. Comcast and Verizon declined to comment for this story, referring us to the CCI’s website, while Time Warner gave us some information on its plans after this article was published. AT&T and Cablevision did not respond by press time.

The CCI is an industry-supported group made up of members of the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, other trade groups and the five major U.S. ISPs including AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon.

Meet the six strikes, again

In case you need a refresher, here’s how the six strikes are supposed to work: Copyright holders monitoring peer-to-peer file sharing discover that a device originating from your Internet Protocol (IP) address is trading in pirated content online. Depending on your individual circumstances, you will either see all six of these steps or some abridged version of them.

Strike 1 (educational alert): You get an e-mail that says someone used your Internet connection to trade copyrighted material. The notification will probably assume that someone else infringed copyright without your knowledge and include tools to help keep your Wi-Fi connection secure from unauthorized users. The notice may also include links to legitimate online storefronts to access digital content.

Strike 2 (educational alert): You get another notification similar to Strike 1.

Strike 3 (acknowledgement alert): Uh-oh, not only haven’t you figured out how to use a VPN yet, but you are still trading in copyrighted content. So you get another e-mail notification, but this time you have to acknowledge that you received the alert by following a link to a Web site or by watching a video that explains why piracy is bad.

Strike 4 (acknowledgment alert): Another alert similar to Strike 3.

Strike 5 (mitigation alert): Copyright holders are still detecting piracy at your IP. So you get yet another alert, but now you are going to receive a punishment, euphemistically dubbed a “mitigation measure.” These punishments may include throttling or slowing your Internet connection, blocking online access until you contact your ISP to discuss the issue or more copyright reeducation where you have to “review and respond to educational information.” The specific types of mitigation measures that actually get used will be up to the individual ISP.

Most ISPs are reluctant to say whether or not they plan to the more extreme mitigation measures of bandwidth throttling and temporary Internet service suspensions. A report in November said Verizon would use the bandwidth throttling measure. Comcast, meanwhile, will not use either bandwidth throttling or temporary suspensions, one source familiar with the matter told TechHive. The ISP plans instead to opt for so-called educational measures, avoiding the more punitive treatments.

Time Warner Cable’s mitigation measures will include temporary service suspension requiring you to speak with a customer service representative before Internet access is restored, vice president of public relations Alex Dudley said. The call should only take a few minutes, Dudley added, and will include a discussion about copyright and your agreement not to pirate material in the future.

Strike 6 (mitigation alert): Another alert similar to Strike 5.

If, after all of those alerts, you still continue to pirate, the copyright alerts should stop. The CCI also includes an arbitration procedure after you’ve reached the mitigation stage allowing you to challenge accusations of piracy. To challenge a mitigation measure, you will have to pay a $35 filing fee that will be refunded if you win your case.

While the entertainment industry is happy about the introduction of the CCI’s copyright alerts, critics are very concerned about the new program. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an online user advocacy group, recently called the six strikes program a “copyright surveillance machine.”

“ISPs will be serving as Hollywood’s private enforcement arm, without the checks and balances public enforcement requires,” EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz wrote in a November blog post. “Once a subscriber is accused, she must prove her innocence, without many of the legal defenses she’d have in a courtroom.”

With the impending threat of bandwidth throttling and temporary service suspensions hanging over the head of U.S. Internet users, we wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Virtual Private Network (VPN)’ is going to be a trending topic for Google searches this week.

Updated at 12:55 p.m. PT with information from Time Warner.

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