A controversial strategy to combat Internet piracy took effect Monday, meaning subscribers who illegally share movies or songs could be punished by losing Web access or having their broadband speeds slowed to a crawl.
The new "Copyright Alert System," or "six strikes" system, is the result of a partnership between major Internet service providers and the entertainment industry to deter theft of copyrighted material online. The film and recording industries say online piracy costs them billions of dollars in lost revenue each year. A trade group representing the entertainment industry and Internet providers announced the move in a blog post on Monday.
Under the new system, Internet subscribers accused of online piracy will receive a series of alerts. Critics have called the system "six strikes" because the sixth copyright violation is expected to lead to punishment from the Internet providers.
The details of each Internet provider's alert system are still unknown, but each one is expected to be slightly different. Under Verizon's proposed plan, which leaked online last month, alleged copyright violators could have their Internet speeds slowed to dial-up speeds for two to three days.
Under Time Warner Cable's plan, the company will temporarily suspend Internet service to alleged copyright violators until they call a customer service representative and agree to stop pirating copyrighted material, Time Warner Cable spokesman Alex Dudley told The Huffington Post last month.
In a blog post Monday, Jill Lesser, executive director of the Center for Copyright Information, wrote that the alerts "are meant to educate rather than punish" and will direct them to legal alternatives and allow them to seek an independent review if they believe they are innocent.
Under Verizon's proposed plan, alleged copyright violators must pay $35 to have an arbitrator review whether they are guilty of Internet piracy. If the arbitrator rules in their favor, their money is refunded and their Internet speeds go untouched.
Some industry observers have questioned whether the alert system will be effective. Some note that Internet users who frequently engage in illegal file-sharing often use private networks or proxy services to disguise the location of their computers. Others worry that small businesses that provide Wi-Fi access could be accused of copyright violations if their customers engaged in illegal file-sharing on their networks.
Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a public interest group, said the new copyright alert system "will be a significant test of whether a voluntary copyright enforcement system can work while at the same time protecting the rights of Internet users."
"I urge both the participating Internet service providers and the content companies to be more open and transparent about how the CAS works and, after the system has been in place for a time, to provide the public data that shows how the system is working," Sohn said in a statement.