ISPs Agree To Crack Down On File-Sharers


Major Internet service providers will start sending warnings to subscribers who allegedly infringe copyright online under a new anti-piracy initiative announced on Thursday by the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America.

The new Copyright Alert System calls for the major ISPs to notify people who upload or download copyrighted files that they're engaging in unlawful activity.

ISPs will send up to five increasingly urgent warnings, following which the ISPs will institute "mitigation measures" ranging from slowing down users' service to disconnecting them. The plan doesn't require ISPs to terminate users' accounts. Participating ISPs include AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon.

The plan marks the entertainment industry's latest attempt to counter the disruption sparked by the emergence of Napster more than 10 years ago. In the last decade, the MPAA and RIAA have sued -- and shut down -- numerous companies for allegedly enabling copyright infringement by users.

The RIAA also embarked on a litigation campaign against individuals who allegedly shared files for free on peer-to-peer services. That effort, which lasted from 2003 to 2008, resulted in more than 30,000 court cases, but didn't appear to stem unlawful file-sharing. Prosecuting the lawsuits also proved costly to the RIAA.

In late 2008, the RIAA announced that it would stop filing lawsuits against individual users who shared music for free and would instead work with ISPs on developing a so-called "graduated response" program, but until Thursday nothing concrete had materialized.

Since 2008, piracy on peer-to-peer networks is thought to have decreased as users increasingly obtain pirated files from digital storage sites. Nonetheless, the agreement announced on Thursday appears aimed at users of peer-to-peer networks.

The MPAA and RIAA say that the program is supposed to be educational rather than punitive. Additionally, users who dispute the allegations can pay $35 for a review by an independent body.

For users who receive repeat warnings, the potential "mitigation measures" can include speed reductions, redirection to a landing page until subscribers contact their ISPs and requirements that users respond to educational material.

Victoria Espinel, the Obama administration's Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, cheered the initiative. "We believe that this agreement is a positive step and consistent with our strategy of encouraging voluntary efforts to strengthen online intellectual property enforcement and with our broader Internet policy principles, emphasizing privacy, free speech, competition and due process," she said in a blog post.

But digital rights advocates expressed concern. Corynne McSherry, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells Online Media Daily that whatever educational material is provided to alleged infringers might "give a very skewed interpretation of how copyright works."

"The ISPs have essentially agreed to be propaganda agents for Hollywood," she adds.

The Center for Democracy & Technology and Public Knowledge offered a lukewarm response to the plan, saying that the agreement can potentially reduce online copyright infringement but also raises the concern that people could be disconnected based on unproven allegations. "Close ongoing scrutiny will be required to ensure that the agreement achieves its purpose without unfair or disproportionate consequences for Internet users," the groups stated.

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