Internet providers set to crack down on illegal file-sharing

Under the new copyright alert system, Internet service providers (ISPs) 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, which will include educational material on protecting copyrights and the consequences of illegal file-sharing, 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."

Internet service providers are preparing to implement their alert systems in November, according to someone familiar with CCI's thinking, and they will vary slightly from company to company. It was expected to rollout earlier this year but Lesser said it's taken some additional time for Internet providers to fit the alert systems within their infrastructure.

Cablevision and Time Warner are members of CCI's coalition, along with AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. 

The new alert system is the product of an agreement struck among five major ISPs, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Motion Picture Association of America last summer as a way to clamp down on copyright infringement via illegal file sharing. The success of the industry-led alert system will be watched closely as anti-piracy legislation was dealt a crushing blow earlier this year.

Critics of the effort have previously raised concern about Internet providers terminating people's Internet connection or access to certain websites if they don't respond to the alerts.

Lesser said there has been a lot of misinformation spread about the alert system and stressed that Internet subscribers' accounts will not be terminated as part of the program.

"In one case there's a temporary slow down of [Internet] speed, but that doesn't impact access to sites," Lesser said. "That's not the way this works at all."

"When you're in a walled garden, all you essentially have to do is go through the education [material] and then you're out of the walled garden" she said.

Under the alert system, copyright owners like a record label or film company will flag an Internet provider if they believe an IP address is illegally pirating their content on a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. The ISP will then determine which subscriber account matches up with the IP address, or the set of numbers used to identify a device, and send an alert to the subscriber notifying them that their Internet account may have be used for illegal file-sharing.

A subscriber will stop receiving alerts after an Internet provider sends them a sixth, and final, copyright alert, according to Lesser.

"If you continue to engage in copyright infringement, you're not going to continue to get alerts," she said. "In our mind, we're going to target consumers that respond to these alerts. The alerts stop after that last level and nothing else happens under the program."

CCI says on its site that "only a small fraction of all subscribers are likely to ever receive an alert and an even smaller fraction may face a Mitigation Measure due to their online activity." The organization anticipates that "most subscribers are far more likely to address the problem based on the initial alerts."

Some have raised concern that the alert system would open the door for content owners to sue Internet subscribers. Internal AT&T documents obtained by the blog TorrentFreak warn that a content owner may take legal against a customer after they receive their fifth copyright alert and require AT&T to turn over personal information to help with the case.

AT&T plans to make repeat copyright infringers' complete an educational tutorial on copyright before they can gain access to certain websites, TorrentFreak reported, citing the obtained documents.

An AT&T spokesman declined to comment on TorrentFreak's report and said "details on the next phase of the Copyright Alert System will be forthcoming." Lesser declined to comment on the documents obtained by TorrentFreak.

However, Lesser argues that the alert system won't make Internet subscribers more vulnerable to copyright infringement suits. Receiving an alert "doesn't mean you're anymore liable to be sued or the content owner has anymore eligibility to sue someone," she said.

People can also request an independent review if they believe they've received a copyright alert in error, she noted. That process is being developed by the American Arbitration Associates.

"The hope is the causal user and the user that doesn't realize the implications of what they're doing will respond to the system, and we'll see a decrease in the use of peer-to-peer networks for copyright infringement and we'll see an increase in legal services," Lesser said.

— Updated at 3:46 p.m.