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Top ISPs agree to become copyright cops

As first reported by CNET, some of the country's largest Internet service providers have agreed to step up copyright enforcement on behalf of content owners.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read

Some of the top ISPs, including Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, have officially agreed to step up efforts to protect the rights of copyright owners, a move first reported last month by CNET.

Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, in a file photo. Declan McCullagh/CNET

"Leaders from the movie, television, music and Internet service provider communities today announced a landmark agreement on a common framework for 'Copyright Alerts,'" the parties said today in a statement. Copyright Alerts "will educate and notify Internet subscribers when their Internet service accounts possibly are being misused for online content theft. This voluntary landmark collaboration will educate subscribers about content theft on their Internet accounts, benefiting consumers and copyright holders alike."

Many file-sharing fans and proponents of free content are to sure mock the assertion that this is a benefit to them.

This agreement hands the music and film sectors a big new stick with which to fight online illegal downloading of copyrighted works. The deal doesn't affect illegal streaming services. The film, music, and software sectors claim that online piracy costs the U.S. economy billions in lost revenue and jobs.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the respective trade groups for the four major record companies and six top Hollywood film studios, have labored for years to persuade ISPs to take a tougher antipiracy position. The RIAA, led by CEO Mitch Bainwol, said in December 2008 that the group would cease filing lawsuits against individual file sharers and would instead enlist the help of the large bandwidth providers. These companies are recognized as some of the Web's most powerful gatekeepers. It took nearly three years to convince the ISPs to agree.

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The new system of enforcement looks a lot like the old system. The ISPs send out a series of notifications and warnings--which many ISPs have done for years--to someone suspected of illegally downloading films and music. What is new is that if the warnings are ignored, then the ISPs will eventually implement a series of tougher measures.

Those suspected of chronic abuse of copyright laws will face penalties. Multiple warnings are supposed to be followed up by one of several responses that ISPs can choose from, such as throttling down an accused user's Web-connection speed to blocking them from surfing the Web altogether.

"These Mitigation Measures may include, for example: 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," the parties said in a statement.

Click on photo to read 'Should you fear new ISP copyright enforcers?' Screen shot by Greg Sandoval/CNET

It's obvious that the ISPs wanted to move deeper into copyright protection as gingerly as they could to avoid alienating young customers. But this new system of "mitigation" is just lipstick on the "graduated response" policy that the entertainment companies have pushed for years.

"Consumers have a right to know if their broadband account is being used for illegal online content theft, or if their own online activity infringes on copyright rules...so that they can correct that activity," said James Assey, vice president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, a trade group that represents ISPs. "We are confident that, once informed that content theft is taking place on their accounts, the great majority of broadband subscribers will take steps to stop it."

ISPs had balked at adopting a graduated response plan for years. But last month, CNET reported that the White House was instrumental in encouraging the parties to reach an agreement, sources with knowledge of the talks said at the time. President Obama has said intellectual property is important to the country's economy and has vowed to step up the fight against piracy and counterfeiting.

His administration has lobbied Congress for the past several years to pass new pro-copyright legislation while instructing federal law enforcement to make antipiracy a priority.