AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon Wireless have banded together to become a new team of copyright cops in order to help numerous copyright holders wage their war against piracy.
Announced on Thursday, these five companies have agreed to send out warning letters to subscribers caught downloading illegal copies of movies, TV shows and music. The group says that the plan won't violate customer privacy nor will it permanently disconnect them for bad behavior, but worst case scenarios mean that their internet connections will be throttled and/or a person-to-person discussion with the ISP itself.
According to various reports, the offending subscriber will receive a warning email or an online alert after the ISP receives a complaint from a copyright holder. The warning may be followed by a second warning if the illegal downloading persists, or the ISP may instead move to the third stage and activate a popup message or a landing page to make sure the end-user gets the message. The landing page or popup will appear again if the ISP receives a fourth complaint.
On the fifth complaint, ISPs have agreed to either throttle the offending user's connection, or force them to review and respond to educational information on copyright by blocking internet access with a landing page. At this point, ISPs can carry out this particular discipline, or simply issue a fifth alert. But if a sixth complaint is received, ISPs will either throttle the connection or require educational measures. Again, users won't be disconnected permanently, and their personal information will not be forwarded to copyright holders. That said, the ISPs reaffirmed that they still retain their right to cut off any user who violated their terms of service.
“The ISPs want to cooperate with Hollywood because the carriers recognize that their own growth depends in part on bundled content strategies,” said Eric Garland of BigChampagne, which tracks online media traffic. “They don’t want to be just utilities providing Internet access, but premium content distributors as well.”
According to the New York Times, the companies are hoping that the effect on consumers will be more of a "deterrent-by-annoyance" rather than the random Ban-Hammer of litigation that the recording industry association once chose as the preferred method of enforcement. Both the RIAA and MPAA have recently stuck a brick wall in some cases, as various judges have thrown out John Doe complaints due to their belief that they have no jurisdiction over possible offenders residing out-of-state. As of late, these judges have requested solid proof that copyright offenders were discovered to be within their jurisdiction before proceeding any further.
Naturally there are doubts that the new plan will work. The new system seemingly focuses on users who share files on BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer networks. But there are other tools for downloading music and video that aren't quite as obvious including newsreaders accessing Usenet. What will happen to those stubborn offenders who just keep downloading copyrighted content after the sixth warning?
"The challenge is that consumers will continue to do whatever they wish on the Internet, and find clever ways to not attract the attention of the content companies or ISPs,” Garland said. "It will never end."
The agreement between the five ISPs is supposedly the work of "several powerful players" led by the Obama administration including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D). The White House reportedly is also heavily leveraging the threat of legislation to coerce the ISPs into sticking to the policing scheme.