Internet Service Providers Close to Implementing System to Punish Piracy

New guidelines developed by ISPs and content creators will try to thwart illegal file sharing.

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Content creators and Internet service providers took another step towards preventing online piracy Monday by naming the head of an agency that will help develop a "graduated" set of punitive measures for suspected online pirates.

The move to tap Jill Lesser as head of the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), which will develop the guidelines, suggests that ISPs are quickly advancing towards launching a system that guards against illegal downloads. The system is slated to start in early July.

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Last year, the country's major Internet service providers agreed with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to voluntarily monitor its subscribers' Internet use, enforcing "mitigation measures" on those suspected of piracy. Those measures could include Internet speed throttling, which would restrict users' access until they "discuss the matter" with their ISP, as well as potentially disabling users' service.

Under the program, the specifics of which will be developed by CCI, the MPAA and RIAA will alert ISPs when they suspect a certain computer has pirated copyrighted content, likely by monitoring the popular file-sharing protocol BitTorrent. ISPs will then send "educational copyright alerts," informing users their connection is suspected of being used for illegal piracy. After several strikes, the "educational messages" become punitive.

Under the agreement, there are no specific plans to prosecute users who continue to pirate material, but the CCI says the six-strike program will effectively limit piracy.

"We anticipate that very few subscribers, after repeated alerts, will persist (or allow others to persist) in the illegal behavior," according to a statement on CCI's website. According to the statement, Lesser joined the project because it's "centered on education and deterrence, not punishment."

Not everyone agrees. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that defends Internet users' rights, wrote that "an alert represents nothing more than an allegation untried by a court. We think loss of Internet access would be a draconian measure that Congress did not intend."

Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director of the EFF, says that ISPs and copyright holders "got together and made a backroom deal."

"The subscribers weren't at the table originally, and they're not at the table now ... there's nowhere near enough transparency here," she adds. Although the CCI's advisory board has several consumer advocates, she says "there's no reason [for customers] to be reassured. They're advisers, not deciders."

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Each ISP will implement the program on its own timetable, but the first providers are expected to implement the program in early July, though an RIAA spokesperson says there are no firm dates for implementation.

"It's a lot more fluid and less concrete than I think [previous reports] would lead you to believe," the spokesperson wrote in an E-mail. "Nothing is imminent, nor is there any date set."

However, Lesser's hiring, along with the formation of an advisory board, coincided with an announcement from CCI Monday that the agency was taking "major steps toward implementation."

"The challenge is to strike a balance between the two core notions of copyright protection and the First Amendment," Lesser wrote. It's already clear which side she's on: "While laws that protect intellectual property remain strong and enforcement efforts continue, technology has tipped the balance away from the interests of most creators and artists."

"The ease of distribution of copyrighted content has helped create a generation of people who believe that all content should be free. The notion that artists and creators, and even the big companies that finance, produce and deliver their creations, don't have the right to own and control their distribution, simply cannot be."

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