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A coalition composed of movie and television studios, cable and phone companies and record labels are launching a wide-ranging initiative aimed at cracking down on Internet piracy.
The effort brings together Internet service providers — companies that are the gatekeepers to the worldwide Web — and content creators in the fight against the theft of intellectual property. It will be overseen by the newly created Center for Copyright Information, whose backers include the Motion Picture Assn. of America, which represents all the major Hollywood studios; the Independent Film & Television Alliance; the Recording Industry Assn. of America; and ISPs Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.
The initiative will target households whose Internet usage indicates that pirated content is either being uploaded or downloaded. As many as six "copyright alerts" will be sent to those homes to let subscribers know that their Internet accounts have been used in an illegal fashion. Subscribers will get a series of warnings in the form of emails or pop-up messages.
Although the ISPs will not automatically shut down a subscriber's broadband service as punishment for piracy-related activity, users will face repercussions, including the potential to have their Internet connection speeds reduced. Repeat offenders may also be routed to a "landing page" on the Internet when they log on and would be required to contact their ISP to discuss the matter.
Some watchdogs expressed concern about the initiative and questioned whether some of the potential safeguards might be overstepping.
"We believe it would be wrong for any ISP to cut off subscribers, even temporarily, based on allegations that have not been tested in court," advocacy groups Center for Democracy & Technology and Public Knowledge said in a joint statement. "Close ongoing scrutiny will be required to ensure that the agreement achieves its purpose without unfair or disproportionate consequences for Internet users."
In the past, there has been tension between Hollywood and broadband providers on the issue of content theft. Hollywood has wanted ISPs to be more aggressive in fighting piracy, but they have been reluctant to go after customers for uploading or downloading stolen content.
Content providers would prefer ISPs adopt the model in France, which has a three-strikes approach that terminates Internet access for people who refuse to heed warnings to stop engaging in illegal activity online.
Still, both the content companies and ISP providers praised the initiative as an important step in eliminating piracy.
"We hope that it signals a new era in which all of us in the technology and entertainment value chain work collaboratively to make the Internet a more safe and legal experience for users," said Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Assn. of America.
Verizon General Counsel Randal S. Milch added, "This is a sensible approach to the problem of online content theft and, importantly, one that respects the privacy and rights of our subscribers."
Part of the goal of the coalition is to get parents to pay more attention to what their kids are doing on the Internet and to start to monitor how their accounts are being used or abused.
"We are confident that, once informed that content theft is taking place on their accounts, the great majority of broadband subscribers will take steps to stop," said James Assey, executive vice president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.