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Copyright Alert System: “Six Strikes” Can Affect You

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Even if you aren’t personally involved in illegal content sharing, account holders are responsible for the actions of anyone on their network.  Program participants hope that receipt of a warning will encourage account holders to take measures to restrict unauthorized activity on their network by talking to household members, limiting unauthorized access by encrypting their WiFi network, and/or installing software or hardware to block access to peer-to-peer sites…

The last week of February 2013 marked the official launch of the Copyright Alert System, a joint program between major internet service providers, aka ISPs (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner) and entities working to protect content copyrights, such as The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).  This system is also known as the “Six Strikes” Anti-Piracy Program since users suspected of participating in the sharing of copyright-protected material will receive up to six warning notices from their ISP, with escalating consequences for repeat offenders.

The policy was created by the Center for Copyright Information and the organization claims that it was established in order to educate users, not punish them.  Their website states, “With so many options today for accessing digital entertainment it can be unclear what’s legal and what’s not.”  The idea being that many people who download copyrighted content (like music, TV shows and movies) may not realize that they are breaking the law.  Searching the Internet for last night’s American Idol may lead unsuspecting computer users to stumble upon peer-to-peer sharing or Bit Torrent sites; others may believe that if it’s easily available online it’s not “wrong” or that those responsible are the ones who post the content or host the site.  The program hopes that educating these parties will reduce the piracy of copyrighted materials.

Under the program, content creators will monitor public peer-to-peer networks for what they believe to be illegal sharing (i.e. piracy) of their property.  They will provide the IP address of the parties involved to the internet service provider, who will then send a warning to the holder of the account accused of illegal downloading or file sharing.  ISPs are free to decide what consequences to link to each warning, and each has reported a different plan of action.

Most ISPs will send the first few warnings via email to the account holder.  Several providers will require account holders of IP addresses involved in illegal file sharing that receive a third or fourth notice to watch educational videos about legal sources of copyrighted content, acknowledge receipt and understanding of instructional materials, read and click-through messages that appear in their browser via a pop up or website redirect, or call their ISP’s customer support line to participate in an instructional conversation about copyright and legal sources of copyright-protected content.

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If an IP address continues to be submitted to the alert system, some ISPs will take more drastic action.  Verizon has reported plans to cap the data speed of repeat offender FiOS customers, leaving them with speeds roughly equivalent to dial-up for two to three days.  Users will be given a 2-week notice before speed is capped in which they can appeal the piracy accusations.  The fee for appeal is $35, but it will be refunded if the American Arbitration Association (AAA) finds in the user’s favor.

Cablevision has announced it will suspend customer’s internet service for 24 hours after the fifth and sixth alerts if the accusation goes unchallenged.

Time Warner, AT&T and Comcast have to-date announced no plans to throttle internet speed or suspend service for repeat offenders.  Instead, their mitigation involves a series of alerts that, if ignored, will steer users toward required instructional conversations with ISP representatives.

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