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ISPs Can Throttle Back Broadband Bandits

Service providers and content owners are deflecting the notion that a new Copyright Alert System is just a way to punish subscribers or to spy on their Web activity.

Instead, they're spinning an "education" goal that aims to bring it to a customer's attention when it appears that an account is being used to steal content. They're giving people every opportunity to set the record straight, as Thursday's press release puts it. (See Major ISPs Join Online Content Theft Tilt.)

The new system sets up a framework to deliver alerts when it looks like a customer's Internet account is being used to steal content. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) are the first ISPs backing the framework.

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. are among the Motion Picture Association of America members that have signed off on it.

Several ISPs have already been using email notifications to reign in suspected copyright violators, but the new program, expected to start later this year, establishes conventions for the alerts themselves.

It also outlines some actions ISPs can take if an account owner has acknowledged multiple warnings but still appears to be doing less-than-authorized downloading of video, music or other digital content.

Those "mitigation measures," as the press release calls them, could include temporary reductions of Internet speeds or redirecting the account to a landing page that will stay up until the customer contacts the ISP to review the matter. ISPs will have to publish which methods they're using (and they can waive any of the suggested enforcement tactics). Customers can ask for an independent review before any of those measures are imposed, but they're subject to a $35 filing fee.

The program does not include account termination as a "mitigation" option, nor does it include any new actions that existing laws don't already allow. So, its backers insist that the initiative is not akin to so-called three-strikes policies aimed at pirates.

The program doesn't require ISPs to use content filtering technology or to cache user data, but instead matches the IP address identified by the copyright holder with the account in question.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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