AT&T, Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon May Disrupt Services for File Sharing

The nation’s major internet service providers, at the urging of Hollywood and the major record labels, have agreed to disrupt internet access for online copyright scofflaws.

The deal, almost three years in the making, was announced early Thursday, and includes participation by AT&T, Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon. After four copyright offenses, the historic plan calls for these companies to initiate so-called “mitigation measures” (.pdf) that might include reducing internet speeds and redirecting a subscriber’s service to an “educational” landing page about infringement.

The internet companies may eliminate service altogether for repeat file sharing offenders, although the plan does not directly call for such drastic action.

The agreement, backed by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, also does not require internet service providers to filter copyrighted material sailing through peer-to-peer protocols. U.S. internet service providers and the content industry have openly embraced filtering, and the Federal Communications Commission has all but invited the ISPs to practice it.

“This is a sensible approach to the problem of online content theft,” said Randal Milch, Verizon’s general counsel. Cary Sherman, the RIAA’s president, said the deal was “groundbreaking” and “ushers in a new day and a fresh approach to addressing the digital theft of copyrighted works.”

The RIAA, which includes Universal Music Group Recordings, Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI Music North America, kicked off the marathon negotiations in December 2008, when it abruptly stopped a litigation campaign that included around 30,000 lawsuits targeting individual file sharers.

Key leverage in the marathon negotiations included the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which demands that ISPs have a termination policy in place for repeat infringers. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo brought the parties together when he was that state’s attorney general.

Michael O’Leary, an MPAA vice president, said the industry will continue to push for federal legislation that would dramatically increase the government’s legal power to disrupt and shutter websites dedicated to infringing activities. That legislation is blocked in the Senate.

“That is an important priority,” he said during a telephone conference, noting that a House version of the stalled Senate legislation is to be introduced soon. The White House applauded Thursday’s announcement, saying it will “have a significant impact on reducing online piracy.”

The Center for Democracy & Technology, along with Public Knowledge, said in a joint statement they were concerned about the accord. “We believe it would be wrong for any ISP to cut off subscribers, even temporarily, based on allegations that have not been tested in court,” the groups said.

Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also had concerns. She added, in a telephone interview, that the EFF was “pretty disappointed that ISPs have agreed to serve as a propaganda agent for big media.”

Thursday’s plan, meanwhile, provides no immunity for internet subscribers facing legal action, and leaves it up to the rights holders to detect infringement.

“As provided under current law, copyright owners may also seek remedies directly against the owner of an internet account based on evidence they may collect,” according to the deal. Sherman said in the telephone conference that the RIAA does “not rule out the possibility of bringing litigation” against repeat file sharing offenders.

The Copyright Act allows damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. Peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted works is easily detectable, as IP addresses of internet customers usually reveal themselves during the transfer of files.


On the first offense, internet subscribers will receive an e-mail “alert” from their ISP saying the account “may have been” misused for online content theft. On the second offense, the alert might contain an “educational message” about the legalities of online file sharing.

On the third and fourth infractions, the subscriber will likely receive a pop-up notice “asking the subscriber to acknowledge receipt of the alert.”

After four alerts, according to the program, “mitigation measures” may commence. They include “temporary reductions of internet speeds, redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter or reviews and responds to some educational information about copyright, or other measures (as specified in published policies) that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter.”

Online infringement, according to the MPAA and RIAA, accounts for thousands of lost jobs and billions of dollars in lost wages and taxes annually.

Members of the MPAA include Walt Disney Studios, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros.


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Posted by Jay White on Jul 7 2011. Filed under TECH 101. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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