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Taking copyright fight to ISPs too punitive, say critics

Taylor Armerding | March 6, 2013
Copyright Alert System, which could slow or suspend your Internet service, said to lack due process

A new system launched to curb online piracy of intellectual property is meant to be educational, not punitive, says the organization behind it. But suspended Internet service or slowing service to a crawl sounds pretty punitive to critics of the Copyright Alert System (CAS).

The Center for Copyright Information (CCI)'s move has ignited yet another debate over the best way to protect the owners of creative property without inhibiting the free flow of information and entertainment. CCI has also angered freedom of information advocates for another reason -- it makes Internet Service Providers (ISP) the first line of enforcement of alleged copyright infringement.

"Copyright holders have spent the last 15 years getting other parties like governments, user-generated content platforms and now ISPs, to subsidize their enforcement costs," said Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Just as swamping the legal system with tens of thousands of individual lawsuits is not the right approach, neither is pitting ISPs against their subscribers."

The CCI, made up of five of the biggest ISPs, AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, plus the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), announced the CAS last week in a post by its executive director, Jill Lesser.

"Our content partners will begin sending notices of alleged P2P (peer-to-peer) copyright infringement to ISPs, and the ISPs will begin forwarding those notices in the form of Copyright Alerts to consumers," she wrote.

After five such notices, which include an escalation of warning language, so-called "mitigation measures" begin, which can include temporary reduction of Internet speed (Verizon customers, will get two days, increasing to three if the alleged violations continue); temporary suspension of service; redirection to a landing page until the user contacts the ISP or reviews and responds to some educational material; or other measures of an ISP's choosing.

Both Lesser and the ISPs (Verizon and Comcast launched their CAS system last Wednesday), say that no subscribers will be terminated, and that they will have plenty of warning before any sanctions are imposed. They say also that there is an appeal process.

But such consolations are not comforting to critics of a system now more commonly known as "six strikes."

First, critics complain that ISP subscribers, or their advocates, were not at the table during the development of the system. "That's one of our chief frustrations with this program," said Higgins. "It was hatched and developed behind closed doors, without ever getting input from the users."

The CCI's Jill Lesser was not available for comment, but a source close to the organization who declined to speak for attribution said CCI did include consumers and subscribers in its exploratory research for the CAS.


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