Copyright alert system goes into effect

February 26, 2013

Pirates, beware. New rules mean that those who turn to illegal downloading to pick up movies, music and other copyrighted files may get warnings from their Internet provider and, in some cases, even see their connections slow down.

An initiative launched Monday by the Center for Copyright Information — which includes members of the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and major Internet service providers — will directly notify users when their connections have been used for illegal downloading.

Under the system, users get five or six chances to stop obtaining multimedia illegally. Successive alerts escalate what users have to do. Early alerts are meant to be educational, CCI says, to direct users to legitimate places to get multimedia content. Later alerts require users to watch videos about online piracy, while final alerts could result in providers taking certain actions, such as throttling back Internet speeds for up to 48 hours. Termination is not part of the alert system.

The CCI advises users who get an alert but aren’t personally downloading copyrighted material to inform everyone who uses their Internet connection about the alert to stop anyone else from doing so. The group also recommends putting a password on networks to prevent others from accessing Internet connections without the account-holder’s knowledge.

This recommendation has drawn complaints from open Internet advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who have argued that these new rules will hurt the spread of open, public WiFi networks. The EFF said that the alerts encourage institutions such as libraries or businesses to shut down open access to the Internet out of fear that they will be used to download illegal material.

In response, the CCI said that the alert system does not apply to a majority of businesses, thanks to deals between companies such as Starbucks and Internet providers to provide legitimate open WiFi connections.

In a blog post, CCI president Jill Lesser said that the alerts could potentially affect some small businesses, such as those operating from a home office, but stressed that even if business owners receive alerts, they are in no danger of losing their Internet connection.

Even so, the EFF retorted, slowing Internet speeds can hurt Internet users because it’s “48 hours of lower productivity and limited communication across the globe, based on nothing more than a mere allegation of copyright infringement.”

Gigi Sohn, president of the open Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge and a member of the CCI advisory board, said that she hopes that processes built into the system will protect consumers from bad allegations. For example, she noted, the system includes a mechanism that lets users argue the charges.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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