Verizon could charge users $35 to challenge anti-piracy claims

Leak of company's 'six strikes' Copyright Alert Program reveals that suspected pirates would face temporary service slowdowns

Businesses and individual subscribers to Verizon's Internet service may have to pay a $35 fee to challenge piracy allegations, according to a leaked draft of the company's forthcoming Copyright Alert Program. Subscribers could also face temporary service slowdowns to 256kbps if Verizon suspects its Internet tubes are being used for transporting copyrighted material.

Torrentfreak posted a version of Verizon's Copyright Alert Program, purportedly swiped from the company's Web servers. A Verizon spokesperson told InfoWorld that "the document in question is a draft document, and was neither public nor even final," and in coming weeks, the company "will be informing its customers about our education and mitigation program, at which time we will be able discuss the plan and its implementation."

Though just a draft, the program makes for interesting reading. It reflects the "six strikes plan" introduced in 2011 by major entertainment companies under the auspices of the Center For Copyright Information. Based on CFCI guidelines, online pirates who persist in sharing copyrighted music, movies, and television episodes will be sent a series of six increasingly severe alerts from their ISP. The alerts ultimately include such punishments as bandwidth throttling, temporary suspension of service, and copyright reeducation.

Importantly, Verizon is not the only ISP that plans to embrace the CFCI guidelines; Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, and Cablevision have signed on as well.

Under the draft guidelines, Verizon would send alerts to subscribers based on claims from copyright holders. When copyright owners detect Internet users engaging in possible illegal file sharing, they can "send Verizon the name of the copyrighted work alleged to be infringed and the IP address of the computer that is suspected of sharing copyrighted content." From there, Verizon would match the IP address to the specific customer to whom it was assigned at the time of activity and notifies him or her of the possible infringement.

The first and second alerts would be sent via automated email and voicemail messages, informing the recipient that that they are suspected of possible copyright infringement activity. The company would also provide a link to information on how to check if file-sharing software is operating on the owner's computer and on how to obtain content legally.

The third and fourth alerts under the draft guidelines would come in the form of a browser redirect to a special Web page, where subscribers would be asked to view a video on copyright law and would be required to acknowledge receiving the alert before being allowed to continue Internet browsing. "Clicking the acknowledgement button does not require you to admit that you or anyone else actually engaged in any infringing activity, only that you have received the alert," the draft reads.

Once a subscriber reaches the fifth and sixth alert under the draft terms, he or she would be redirected to a page to choose from one of three options: The person could agree to an immediate two-to-three-day reduction in Internet speed to 256kbps; a delayed service downgrade within 14 days; or the option to request a review of the validity of the alerts. The American Arbitration Association would conduct the review -- and the subscriber would have to pay the $35 review fee. The AAA would waive the fees for subscribers who meet needs-based criteria.

If the AAA were to find the accusation invalid, the $35 would be refunded. If, however, the AAA did not find in the subscriber's favor, Verizon would throttle down the subscriber's speed for two or three days.

Critics of the CICA guidelines have pointed out they're easy to circumvent using a VPN or IP-masking technology. What's more, critics have complained that the guidelines could be the death of free Wi-Fi at small businesses, as business owners would effectively be held accountable for how customers use (or misuse) their service.

Another potential source of consternation: Why should an ISP subscriber cough up $35 for the AAA to review allegations, rather than making the copyright owner lobbying the complaint foot the bill?

This story, "Verizon could charge users $35 to challenge anti-piracy claims ," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.