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Entertainment industry to launch new anti-piracy campaign

Internet service providers are rolling out a 'six strikes' policy to educate rather than punish people for illegal downloads.

Online file-swappers beware: The entertainment industry is set to kick off a new anti-piracy campaign in the coming weeks, with the backing of some of the country's big Internet service providers.

Subscribers caught repeatedly downloading copyrighted content will receive a series of warning notices. After six strikes, they could be blocked from certain websites until they complete an online "copyright tutorial." The TorrentFreak website, citing internal training documents, reports that AT&T plans to start sending out the "copyright alert" notices as of November 28.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Parker Higgins complains that customers will be assumed guilty. "The way that the system's set up, it's tilted toward the accuser," Higgins says. "Things like due process when you've been accused of something go away in this sort of agreement."

The program is being spearheaded by the movie and music industries in cooperation with major Internet companies, including AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. They signed on to an agreement last year creating the Center for Copyright Information. Executive Director Jill Lesser confirms that, under the plan, customers will have to pay upfront to contest their case with an arbitrator. She promises, however, that the $35 "filing fee" will be refunded "if the consumer, in fact, was sent the notice in error."

Lesser contends the program is designed to educate "in a consumer-friendly way." But Higgins says the copyright center's website is already skewed to the industry's perspective, including what he says are questionable industry estimates of the extent of online piracy and its impact on potential sales. "Much of it looks like the same sort of half-truths and statistics that have been thoroughly debunked, over and over," says Higgins.

Higgins says he's concerned the same industry that will be making the accusations seems to be setting all the ground rules. But Lesser says she hopes the industry's intention of educating consumers will become clear, once the program gets under way.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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