Many digital rights advocates reacted with wariness when they learned that major Internet service providers had agreed to start policing their networks for copyright infringement.
The system, set to launch in July, calls for AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and other ISPs to send a series of warnings to users who allegedly use peer-to-peer networks to upload or download copyrighted files. If the alleged infringement continues, the ISPs will implement a series of measures, ranging from slowing down users' service to disconnecting them.
Consumer advocates have raised several concerns about this plan, mainly centering on whether users' rights will be protected. One point in controversy is that users who disagree with an assertion that they infringed copyright might have to pay $35 just to mount a challenge. Observers also have expressed concern about whether decisions will be fair.
This week, the group that will administer the new system, the Center for Copyright Information, attempted to address some of those concerns. The group announced that the American Arbitration Association will implement an independent review process for consumers.
The Center for Copyright Information also said that it had tapped Jill Lesser to serve as executive director. Lesser, a consultant to the lobbying firm Glover Park Group, sits on the board of the digital rights group Center for Democracy and Technology.
She said in a blog post that she was "intrigued" by the initiative. "The stakeholders were coming together voluntarily without legislation or government intervention beyond what the law already provided," she wrote. "Built into the process was not only a progressive system to inform consumers of potentially illegal behavior, but also an educational platform that would help users understand their rights, secure their networks, and find ways to send and receive content safely and legally."
The new organization also announced that its advisory board will include CDT founder Jerry Berman, Jules Polonetsky, director and co-chair of the think tank Future of Privacy Forum, Gigi Sohn president and CEO of Public Knowledge, and Marsali Hancock of the Internet Keep Safe Coalition.
Those appointments came as a surprise -- particularly that of Gigi Sohn, who has often taken positions that run contrary to the entertainment industry.
She issued a blog post this week stating that she's participating in order to advocate for "balanced" copyright. "I see my role as a consumer 'watchdog'; a liaison with the Internet community that has pronounced its concern about the relentless march towards misguided copyright enforcement," she wrote. "Because there were no other members of the advisory board with extensive experience in copyright policy advocacy on behalf of consumers, Public Knowledge and I decided that we could have more impact by working with the copyright alert system and actually providing input on behalf of ourselves and the Internet community, rather than guessing and complaining from the outside."
Nonetheless, other digital rights advocates remain wary. "An advisory board is just that: a group of advisors, not decisionmakers. No matter how you slice it, subscribers don't have a seat at the table now any more than they did in the earlier negotiations," the Electronic Frontier Foundation said inablog post. "Given the importance of Internet access today, it's crazy to imagine being cut off for unproven accusations from a record label, movie studio, or book publisher."