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ISPs to take on illegal downloading, politely

Molly Wood Mar 19, 2012

Several Internet service providers (ISPs) are set to take on a graduated approach to combating online piracy starting this summer, according to the CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. It’s a plan that was agreed to in 2011 but there hasn’t been much guidance as to when or how the plan would roll out. Essentially, it calls for copyright holders to scan the web to detect the specific web addresses of people believed to be trafficking in copyrighted material illegally. That information is then passed along to the ISP, who in turn issues a warning to the customer.

“So if you are caught by a copyright owner downloading material from a peer-to-peer file-sharing network that they identify as their material, they are going to send a notice to your Internet service provider,” says Annemarie Bridy from Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. “Then that ISP is going to turn around and send to you what is called a copyright alert.”

That’s your first warning, telling you to cut it out with the illegal downloading. Doug Lichtman from UCLA School of Law says the idea is that should end it. “The hope is that just sending this notification will get a lot of people to say you know what, I don’t want to be a part of this. I’m happy to pay for content, and do it legitimately,” he says.

If that first warning goes unheeded, it escalates into… more emails! “After the first warning, what do you get? A second warning,” says Lichtman. “After the second, what do you get? A third warning. Basically it’s communication.”

You’ll never guess what comes after the third warning. It’s a fourth warning. Presumably, the wording in all those emails would have gotten a bit more terse by this point. If you keep up with the downloading and the piracy, says Bridy, it’s time for plan B. “One of the things they might do is slow down your Internet connection,” she says. “They might redirect you to a landing page where you could complete an educational program that teaches you about copyright law. Or, the landing page could just require you to contact a customer service representative to talk to them about file sharing and copyright infringement. Or, the ISP could temporarily restrict or suspend your Internet access.”

Exactly what ISPs plan to do is still up in the air. But Lichtman thinks the approach will have a big impact on the casual pirate. He says, “Once we remind folks this isn’t anonymous and it is wrong, I think most people will realize I don’t want to do this,” he says. “Just like in music. Roll back six, seven years, and a lot of us were getting our music illegally online, then iTunes rolls out, gives us a way to do it legitimately, and we opt for that. I’m happy to give a dollar, two dollars to get my music completely clean and do the right thing. For all content, hopefully we’re going to turn that same corner.”

Also in this program, the latest findings from our According To A Recent Study file. It turns out just 49 percent of traffic on the web is from regular people like you and me looking around.

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