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Internet piracy rehab: The latest push to curb illegal downloads

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

Downloading stuff illegally online? Say hello to Internet piracy rehab. Instead of 12 steps, users get six warnings. That's part of a program that begins this week dubbed "Six Strikes". Under Six Strikes, Internet Service Providers send out warnings to users suspected of pirating online content.

Some of the participating ISP's include Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T. Jill Lesser, executive director for the Center for Copyright Information, the group leading the program, says a lot of those who share illegal content don't realize it's wrong.

"We are hopeful that the vast majority of people engaging in this behavior will change their behavior when they're informed in a way that's useful," she says.

So part of the new copyright alert system includes tips like how to secure your wireless connection and where to find legal downloads. If users keep pirating content online, ISP's can slow their Internet connection dramatically. Or users might have to watch a five-minute video on copyright infringement.

Benjamin Lennett, policy director for the Open Technology Institute, warns that content owners can ultimately use the program to cut off users' Internet connections.

"There's no cost for the content industry to submit as many requests to ISP's as they want," he says. "And this will all happen with very little transparency for the public."

Lennett says the new program offers no checks and balances for the content industry, so even if it seems weak on the surface, the copyright program can easily spiral out of control against users.

Critics also say the move can hurt small businesses like coffee shops that offer public WiFi, or people with unsecured WiFi networks at home, as anyone can jump on and download content illegally.

And if a consumer feels wrongly accused? There is some recourse. Appeals cost $35. But only then, Lennet says, does the burden of proof shift from the consumer to the content companies.

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