Entertainment industry, Internet service providers roll out anti-piracy system

After several months of anticipation, the copyright alert system managed by major Internet service providers (ISPs) and Hollywood groups is now in effect.

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Skepticism has surrounded the new system, which is aimed at reducing peer-to-peer online file sharing of blockbuster movies like "Lincoln" or the upcoming "Superman" sequel, TV shows and hit songs. The members of the organization that helped craft the framework for the new alert system took to Capitol Hill on Friday to cut through some of the rumors circulated about it and urge skeptics to give the new anti-piracy program a chance.

Verizon Deputy Counsel Thomas Dailey said the participating movie studios, record labels and Internet service providers acknowledge that the alert system isn't a panacea for online piracy, but may "hopefully make a dent in it."

"If you're a hardcore infringer, you're not going to stop because of this program. We know that," Dailey said during the panel, hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.

In the run-up to the rollout of the alert system, there were rumors swirling on the Web that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) would force Internet service providers to cut off a subscriber's Internet connection if they failed to respond to a set of six alerts warning illicit entertainment files had been downloaded to their account. For this reason, some dubbed it "the six strikes" program.

Others worried that the system would disrupt wireless Internet connections at commercial hotspots like Starbucks, McDonalds or local libraries, where the owners of the account don't know or have control over users' Internet activity.

Jill Lesser, the executive director of the Center for Copyright Information, which oversees the new anti-piracy program, argued during the panel that those rumors couldn't be farther from the truth.

Lesser stressed that the alert system is focused on residential wireline broadband accounts, not the Wi-Fi at people's neighborhood Starbucks. She also emphasized several times that the aim of the program is to educate people about online copyright rules and encourage them to access entertainment content legally—not to punish average Internet users and cut off their access to the Web.

"The goal here is really education, not punishment," said Lesser.

"We want this program to be targeted to people who are going to respond to it," she added.

Under the new copyright alert system, Internet service providers will send a series of alerts to subscribers whose accounts may have been used to illegally distribute music, movies or other entertainment content via file sharing. If the subscriber does not respond to the first set of alerts, the Internet service provider may temporarily slow down their Internet speeds, direct them to an online tutorial when they try to access popular websites or implement other penalties—called "mitigation measures."

For example, Dailey said Verizon plans to send two notices to subscribers via email that copyright infringing activity had taken place on their account. If the activity keeps up after those two notices, Verizon will direct the subscriber to a pop-up Web page where they will be asked to acknowledge that they received the email notices and to watch a short video on copyright protection.

Once a subscriber watches the video, "then you're out of the walled garden," Dailey said.

But if a subscriber hits their fifth notice, Verizon will implement its so-called mitigation measure: bandwidth slowdown.

"On the fifth notice, it'll be for two days your bandwidth will be slowed down to 256K, and then on a sixth notice it will be slowed down for three days at the same speed," Dailey said. "The idea behind this is to give you enough bandwidth so apps like [voice over IP] will work, but it's to get people's attention."

"[We] want to make sure that somebody responsible on the account will get the notice and realize that something is going on," he added, noting that parents may not be the first to see the email notices or acknowledge the pop-up Web page.

On the other hand, AT&T's mitigation measure will direct subscribers to an online portal where they will go through an online copyright tutorial. Once a subscriber completes the tutorial, they will no longer be directed to the tutorial and their Internet should function normally, according to Brent Olson, vice president for public policy at AT&T.

"The key here is the educational component. What we're really trying to do is to educate the customer, empower them to make the decision," Olson said. "But at the end of the day, it's up to the customer to choose what to do and what not to do."

Lesser said the Center for Copyright Information will be gathering data about the efficacy of the alert system and how it runs, including the delivery of the alerts and the appeals process.

The members participating in the Center for Copyright Information include the MPAA, RIAA, Independent Film and Television Alliance, American Association of Independent Music, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T and Cablevision. The organization also has an advisory board of three public interest advocates, including Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn, Future of Privacy Forum Director Jules Polonetsky and Jerry Berman, founder of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee.

Marianne Grant, a senior vice president at the MPAA, walked attendees through the scanning system the film industry group uses to notify ISPs about infringing activity spotted on a peer-to-peer network by a particular IP address. The ISP will then determine which subscriber account matches the IP address and send an alert to the subscriber notifying them that their Internet account may have be used for illegal file sharing.

Subscribers can challenge an alert if they believe it has been sent in error for a $35 fee. The American Arbitration Associates will oversee the process and the fee will be refunded if a subscriber wins the challenge.

The new copyright alert system is entirely industry-led and voluntary. The results of the program will be watched closely by Congress, which failed to pass anti-piracy legislation after Internet users and companies launched a wave of online protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Berman noted that the system is a welcome alternative and not similar to the two anti-piracy bills.

"The hope of this program is to convince a good number of consumers not to do what they're doing and I think that is a voluntary, not a draconian, solution—one that deserves to be studied," he said.

"It would be helpful to give it a chance and it would be a disservice to try and surround it with hot rhetoric and mislead people about its characteristics in order to bring it down because if the argument of openness and freedom is we can have no solutions in this space, that's just not acceptable and that's not going to happen," Berman added.

Public Knowledge's Sohn said the program will likely not be perfect, but the entertainment trade groups have demonstrated that "they're doing everything they can to limit false positives" and not target copyright-abiding subscribers. Her goal is to help fine tune the system as it moves forward.

"That's the nature of any system of this time," Sohn said. "I certainly think at the outset, it's worth giving the system the chance."