Tackling online piracy through graduated response: the new copyright alert system

Rick Carnes, Arts+Labs

Rick Carnes, Adviser, Arts+Labs

The always-evolving relationship between ISPs and content owners took another turn toward cooperation and mutual respect in early July. Major ISPs including AT&T (NYSE: T), Cablevision (NYSE: CVC), Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), as well as rights groups representing the movie studios and the record labels (MPAA, RIAA, IFTA and A2IM), announced a voluntary agreement to implement a pro-consumer Copyright Alert System to assist in curtailing illegal online piracy.

This new Copyright Alert System establishes a standardized program in which ISPs will forward a series of up to six notices of escalated warning to Internet subscribers whose Internet accounts may have been misused for illegally distributing copyrighted content without authorization of the rightful owner.

The alerts will begin with two warnings informing consumers that their accounts may have been misused for copyright theft.  Each of these notices will refer the consumer to educational materials about copyright theft penalties, and point them to legal sources for content while also giving them information on how to secure their WiFi networks.  The third and fourth notifications will require the consumer to acknowledge the receipt of the notifications, so there can be no mistake that the consumer is aware of the alerts. 

The fifth and sixth notifications will include the use of mitigation policies designed to deter further copyright theft.  These might include temporary reduction of the speed of their broadband connection and/or redirection to a landing page where the subscriber will be required to review educational materials on copyright. To ensure that subscribers have a fair opportunity to dispute the allegations contained in the notices before the use of a mitigation measure, the system will also include the availability of an independent review process.

Importantly, under this Copyright Alert Aystem, ISPs will continue to protect their subscribers' privacy and will not provide subscribers' names or other personally identifiable information to right holders.  Additionally, the mitigation measures used by ISPs will not cut off the subscriber's Internet service or prevent access to critical services such as 911 emergency phone calls. These warnings are an important aid to consumers for two reasons.  First, most consumers are honest and law abiding, and when they are notified that copyright theft (including their own activities) is illegal and may subject them to serious legal penalties, will instead choose  to use one of the many legal alternatives to access copyrighted content online. Second, some consumers, such as parents and people with unsecured WiFi systems, are likely unaware that their accounts are being used for illegal sharing of copyrighted content.  Once alerted, they will have the opportunity to secure their systems and/ordiscuss the issue with any friend or family member who uses their Internet connection.

In addition to the notification system, the agreement establishes a Center for Copyright Information with the mission of educating consumers about the importance of copyright protection in driving the creation of quality content, and about legal ways to obtain music and movies online. The Center will also help develop a common framework of best practices for ISPs in alerting Internet subscribers about possible copyright theft associated with their accounts.

Those of us in the creative community applaud this new cooperation between the ISPs and the content community to educate consumers. We also are pleased that this initiative recognizes that the massive theft of content online hurts every player in the content delivery chain. Consumers want great content delivered in a safe fashion, ISPs want to help protect their customers and provide legal content to them, and creators want to protect their works so they are able to continue earning a living at their crafts. Together, through the development of this new Copyright Alert System, we have formed the beginnings of a partnership that will commercially and culturally benefit consumers, creators, and ISPs alike.

Rick Carnes is an advisor to Arts+Labs, a collaboration between technology companies and creative communities that have embraced today's rich Internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers. He is President of The Songwriters Guild of America.