ISPs whiff on protecting copyrights, customers with 'six strikes' system

The new Copyright Alert System leaves customers exposed to baseless lawsuits, bandwidth throttling, and more

Last week your ISP was just another company charging you a lot of money for spotty Internet access and shaky customer support. Today, it could be your friendly neighborhood copyright cop. That's because this week marks the start of the "six strikes" program designed to shame file-swapping scofflaws into acting like law-abiding Netizens.

On Monday, AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon began rolling out the Copyright Alert System, aka "six strikes." This escalating series of alerts replaces the RIAA and MPAA's previous copyright enforcement schemes, which focused primarily on suing college students, grandmothers, and dead people (not necessarily in that order).

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Per the Center for Copyright Information's FAQ:

A first Alert means that an owner of copyrighted content -- like a movie, TV show or a song -- has found an instance of alleged copyright infringement using your Internet account and has sent a notice to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP has then generated a Copyright Alert. The Alert will give you information about how to assure no further infringing activity occurs using their account. ...

If the activity continues, you will receive additional Alerts. Those Alerts will be more prominent and will inform you how to address the activity that is causing the Alerts. If you fail to stop the infringing activity, the Alerts will ultimately result in a "Mitigation Measure" -- an even more prominent notification and educational activity intended to further deter the behavior.

What exactly are these Mitigation Measures? Per the FAQ, they could include throttling your connection speed, dropping you to a lower tier of service, or sending you to detention -- a landing page for a period of time where you complete "an online copyright education program" -- before they let you back on the InterWebs.

It won't, however, mean your ISP will cut you off entirely. Because if you think the country's biggest retailers of Internet access are willing to forgo $50 to $200 a month just to please Hollywood, you're crazy. Most of the ISPs have been mum about far they'll go in enforcing the six-strike rule, but overall they seem less like Raylan Givens in "Justified" and more like mall cops riding Segways.

Time Warner says it will emphasize "education," sending violators to detention after the third strike. Verizon's website notes that after the fifth strike it may throttle your connection speed to 256K for two days; after notice No. 6, that probation period extends to three days. AT&T told DSL Reports that it will not throttle users' connection speeds, even after six strikes have been recorded. Of course, this is AT&T we're talking about; if it really did throttle speeds, how would you know?

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