Music, movie industry to warn copyright infringers

WASHINGTON (AP) — Internet users who

illegally share music, movies or TV shows online may soon get warning

notices from their

service providers that they are violating copyright law. Ignore

the notices, and violators could face an Internet slow-down

for 48 hours. Those who claim they're innocent can protest — for a


For the first time since a spate of

aggressive and unpopular lawsuits almost a decade ago, the music and

movie industries

are going after Internet users they accuse of swapping copyrighted

files online. But unlike the lawsuits from the mid-2000s

— which swept up everyone from young kids to the elderly with

sometimes ruinous financial penalties and court costs — the

latest effort is aimed at educating casual Internet pirates and

convincing them to stop. There are multiple chances to make

amends, and no real, legal consequences under the program if they


"There's a bunch of questions that need to

be answered because there are ways that this could end up causing

problems for

Internet users," such as the bureacratic headache of being falsely

accused, said David Sohn, general counsel for the Center

for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based civil liberties

group. But he added: "There's also the potential for this

to have an impact in reducing piracy in ways that don't carry a

lot of collateral damage."

The Copyright Alert System was put into

effect this week by the nation's five biggest Internet service providers

— Verizon,

AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Cablevision — and the two

major associations representing industry — the Motion Picture

Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of


Under the new program, the industry will

monitor "peer-to-peer" software services for evidence of copyrighted

files being

shared. Each complaints will prompt a customer's Internet provider

to notify the customer that their Internet address has

been detected sharing files illegally. Depending on the service

provider, the first couple of alerts will likely be an email

warning. Subsequent alerts might require a person to acknowledge

receipt or review educational materials. If a final warning

is ignored, a person could be subject to speed-throttling for 48

hours or another similar "mitigation measure."

After five or six "strikes," however, the person won't face any repercussions under the program and is likely to be ignored.

It's unclear whether such repeat offenders would be more likely at that point to face an expensive lawsuit.

The number of Internet users subject to the new system is a sizeable chunk of the U.S. population. Verizon and AT&T alone

supply more than 23 million customers.

For the recording industry, which blames

online piracy for contributing to a dramatic drop in profits and sales

during the

past decade, the new alert system is a better alternative than

lawsuits. In December 2008, the Recording Industry Association

of America announced it had discontinued that practice — which had

been deeply unpopular with the American public — and would

begin working with the Internet providers on the alert system


"We think there is a positive impact of programs like this, and that they can put money in the pocket of artists and labels,"

said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the RIAA.

The Motion Picture Association of America

estimates some 29 million people have downloaded or watched unauthorized


or TV shows online, mostly using technology such as BitTorrent, a

popular peer-to-peer protocol. Like its counterparts in

the music industry, the MPAA says it believes people will stop

when they understand it's illegal and are redirected to legal

ways of paying for downloads.

The alert system "will help ensure an

Internet that works for everyone by alerting families of illegal

activity that has occurred

over peer-to-peer networks using their Internet accounts and

educate them on how they can prevent such activity from happening

again," Michael O'Leary, an executive for the MPAA, said in a

statement Tuesday.

A primary question is whether the system

will generate a significant number of "false positives," or cases in

which people

are accused of sharing illegal content but aren't. One scenario is

if a person doesn't encrypt their wireless connection,

leaving it open to a neighbor or malicious hacker that swaps

illegal files. Another example might be if a person uploads a

"mashup" of songs or brief scenes from a movie — content that

wouldn't necessarily violate the law but could get flagged by

the system.

The Center for Copyright Information, which

created the alert system, is responsible for producing the methods that


will be allowed to use to catch pirates, but it said Tuesday it

won't release those details publicly. It said the system will

rely on humans to review the entire content of every file to make

sure it qualifies as material protected under copyright


"This is an imperfect science," said Yoshi Kohno, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the University

of Washington. "The likelihood of a false positive depends on the diligence of the party doing the investigation."

Bartees Cox, a spokesman for the consumer watchdog group Public Knowledge, says it will watching to ensure the program doesn't

evolve into imposing harsher punishments by Internet providers, such as terminating a person's Internet access altogether

if they are accused of being a prolific violator.

If a person believes they've been wrongly accused, they will have multiple chances to delete the material and move on without

any repercussion. If the problem is chronic, they can pay $35 to appeal — a charge intended to deter frivolous appeals but

also one that can be waived. The center says it won't require proof that a person is financially strapped.

The center's director, Jill Lesser, said that the goal is to educate the average Internet user, rather than punishing them,

and no one will see their Internet access cut off.

"This is the first time the focus has been on education and awareness and redirection to legal and authorized services and

not on punitive measures or a carrot-and-stick approach," she said.

Sohn said the effort will be a significant test whether voluntary measures can reduce copyright infringement.

"The long-term challenge here is getting users to change their attitudes and behaviors and views toward copyright infringement,

because the technology that enables infringement — computers, digital technology and the Internet — that stuff isn't going

away," he said.