AT&T Inc. (T:US), Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ:US) and Comcast Corp. (CMCSA:US) are among Internet-service providers that will take a more active role in fighting online piracy under a program due to start within the next two months.
The service providers, which also include Time Warner Cable (TWC:US) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC:US), will send as many as six electronic alerts to customers whose accounts show signs of being used to download or distribute illegal music, movies or television shows over peer-to-peer networks.
Customers who receive repeated alerts may have their Internet speed temporarily reduced or be required to review educational materials about copyright. The measures don’t include terminating a customer’s account, said Jill Lesser, executive director of the Center for Copyright Information, a Washington-based group that’s coordinating the effort.
“If this is successful it really reduces the need to have government involvement in these issues,” Lesser said in an interview. “These voluntary efforts allow us to be far more nimble and customer-focused than broad legislation.”
The voluntary system follows the demise of Hollywood-backed online piracy legislation in Congress earlier this year. Lawmakers shelved the anti-piracy bills in the House and Senate in January after Google Inc. (GOOG:US) and Wikipedia led an Internet protest that eroded political support for the measures.
The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate, were backed by the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America.
The legislation would have let the Justice Department seek court orders forcing Internet service providers, search engines, payment processors and online ad networks to block or stop doing business with non-U.S. sites linked to piracy. They also would have let private copyright holders seek court orders to require payment services and advertising companies to cut off such websites.
Internet companies said the legislation would promote online censorship, disrupt the Web’s architecture and harm their ability to innovate. Their online protest, in which Google put a black box on its home page and encouraged people to contact members of Congress, unraveled bipartisan backing for the bills.
Under the copyright alert system, which has been in development for more than a year, the MPAA and RIAA will, working with MarkMonitor Inc., look for illegal content sharing on peer-to-peer networks and identify Internet-protocol addresses engaged in the activity, according to Lesser. The addresses will be turned over to the service providers, which will link the addresses to the customer accounts in question and begin sending the copyright alerts, she said.
Customers will be allowed to seek review if they believe the alerts were sent in error, according to a news release on the program. There is a $35 fee for requesting a review, which can be waived by an independent review body, according to a fact sheet on the program.
Verizon will outline its alert process to customers in the next week or so, Richard Young, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail, referring further questions to the Center for Copyright Information. Comcast supports the effort and “will roll it out in the near future,” Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman, said in an e-mail, declining to offer specifics.
Dawn Benton of AT&T, Justin Venech of Time Warner and Jim Maiella of Cablevision didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
“There are possibilities of abuse if it’s not done right, but with enough transparency and a robust appeals process hopefully that won’t happen,” Sherwin Siy, vice president of legal affairs for Public Knowledge, a Washington-based policy group that took part in the protest against the anti-piracy bills, said in an interview.
Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn is on an advisory board of the Center for Copyright Information, which is coordinating the alert system. The center’s members include the MPAA, RIAA and the participating Internet service providers.
Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the motion picture association, referred questions about the program to the center. Cara Duckworth Weiblinger, a spokeswoman for the recording industry group, said it had no immediate comment.
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