'Six strikes' thwarting piracy, leader says

A national effort to crack down on Internet piracy through a "six strikes" system is seeing success, according to the program’s director.

Privacy advocates and online free speech groups expressed concerns at the February 2013 launch of theCopyright Alert System, a voluntary agreement between the entertainment industry and major Internet providers that aims to reduce online piracy through peer-to-peer networks by sending warnings to users.

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Jill Lesser, who runs the system as manager of the Center for Copyright Information, said fears about the system were misplaced.

The goal of the system, Lesser said, is simply to educate subscribers when copyright infringement is happening.

“It’s a non-punitive system” that is “intended to be education-based,” Lesser told The Hill in an interview.

Through the system, participating Internet providers — AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon — send notices to subscribers who share copyrighted content through peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent.

The notices escalate if infringement continues up to six notices; the first notice alerts the subscriber that infringement is happening while the fifth and sixth come with “mitigation measures,” such as temporarily slowed Internet speeds.

While it has been dubbed the “six strikes” system, the Copyright Alert System stops interacting with users, even if their accounts continue to share infringing material, after the sixth notice.

Lesser’s organization is processing data to evaluate its first year of operation.

“We do know that we’ve been able to deliver a large number of alerts,” she said.

There were “early examples of positive feedback,” said Lesser said, adding that she hopes more analysis will show that Internet providers sent out more first and second notices and fewer fifth and sixth notices, which would demonstrate that users stopped sharing infringing content.

Some parts of the program are clearly working, Lesser said, citing the “clear” language in the notices. 

“We want to make sure that people understand the nuances,” she said.

Lesser also said the appeals process that allows subscribers to anonymously challenge the notices they’ve received is working as intended.

Addressing concerns that were voiced last year, Lesser said the system has not incorrectly labeled any lawful content as infringing and has not negatively affected subscribers who open their WiFi networks to the public.

While Lesser’s group is working on its analysis, she is waiting to see how the program might change over the next year, including expanding the program to other Internet providers or other types of copyrighted content, such as software.

“We have not yet crossed that bridge,” Lesser said. “What is in the scheme of things is a small program.”

One change in the short term will be replacing Gigi Sohn, who served on the advisory board for Lesser’s organization. Sohn had been the President of advocacy group Public Knowledge but left the organization, and Lesser’s advisory board, late last year when she was tapped by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to handle external affairs.

According to Lesser, former Center of Democracy and Technology President Leslie Harris will take Sohn’s spot on the advisory board.

Lesser said she does not plan to participate in the Department of Commerce’s attempts to duplicate the Copyright Alert System in other realms of online piracy but hopes the system serves as inspiration for other programs.

“I would hope that the level of cooperation” that led to the Copyright Alert System “shows others in the market that a voluntary agreement can work,” she said.