Big Media Goes Easy with ‘Six Strikes’ Anti-Piracy Measures

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The music, movie and television industries are teaming up with Internet service providers to fight piracy, but in a rather lenient way.

As rumored, several Internet providers—AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon—have agreed to punish people who repeatedly share copyrighted materials. But they’ll only do so after four or five warnings, and even then, the harshest penalty is throttled connection speeds. Ars Technica‘s Nate Anderson calls it "six strikes," although the entertainment industry uses the term "alerts."

(MORE: Revealed: The 6 Worst Piracy States in the U.S.)

Here’s how it’ll work:

  • If a copyright owner complains to an ISP—presumably, based on sniffing out IP addresses through BitTorrent—that service provider sends an online alert such as an e-mail to the subscriber. The alert explains how to secure a wireless network, how to avoid copyright violations in the future and how to lawfully obtain content in the future.
  • A second alert may follow if illicit file-sharing persists, or the ISP may move on to the next alert.
  • With the third alert, there will be some kind of mechanism—like a pop-up notice or landing page—to ensure that the subscriber received the message.
  • Another alert. Same drill as the last one.
  • On the fifth alert, the ISP may take action, such as temporarily reducing connection speeds or requiring the user to review and respond to educational information on copyright. The ISP may also skip the mitigation measures and just issue another alert.
  • By the sixth alert, all participating ISPs will either throttle the user or require educational measures. The entertainment industry doesn’t expect that many people will persist with copyright violations at this point.

Under this agreement, ISPs will never terminate an Internet connection entirely, or otherwise interfere with the subscriber’s ability to receive phone calls and e-mails. No new laws or regulations are involved, and ISPs won’t exchange personal information with copyright holders except by subpoena or court order.

For all those reasons, this agreement seems fairly reasonable, but there are a few issues of concern: Subscribers can request an "independent review" of any claim against them, but doing so costs $35, and it’s not clear how this review process works. It’s also not clear what happens if the subscriber doesn’t acknowledge receipt of subsequent alerts. And as several Ars Technica commenters point out, there’s no guarantee that the entertainment industry won’t try to move the goal posts in the future and get harsher punishments from ISPs.

For now, the six alert system seems fairly reasonable, although I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone is falsely accused of copyright infringement and throttled accordingly. It’s happened before.

MORE: Is Europe Losing the Fight Against Internet Pirates?