Major ISPs strike deal with music, movie industry over copyright

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In a move sure to rankle opponents of the entertainment industry's anti-piracy efforts, leading ISPs and the movie studios and record labels announced a voluntary deal to begin monitoring ISP accounts for possible piracy. Piraters would be subject to a series of "alerts," each increasingly threatening in tone.

The first alert would simply be to inform a user that their account may have been used for copyright infringement, and what the consequences are for getting caught and where to find legal material. These warnings would get more stern in tone until the sixth alert, where the user would find his or her Internet connection slowed or disrupted until the problem is addressed.

The ISPs involved in the negotiations included AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. Representatives from the individual labels and studios were also a party to the deal, as were groups representing smaller independent labels and film and television distributors.

Unlike proposals elsewhere, the ISP would not be required to terminate the user's connection. The parties see this as a less abrasive way to deal with the issue rather than the flurry of lawsuits both the MPAA and RIAA have launched over the past decade, many costing way more to prosecute than the groups received in return.

"This is a sensible approach to the problem of online-content theft and, importantly, one that respects the privacy and rights of our subscribers," Verizon general counsel Randal Milch said in a statement. "We hope that effort -- designed to notify and educate customers, not to penalize them -- will set a reasonable standard for both copyright owners and ISPs to follow."

Certainly, Thursday's deal sounds quite a bit more reasonable than the "three strikes" copyright laws considered in Europe. At the same time it could also raise anew questions of whether ISPs have the right to cut off your Internet access, or whether this amounts to legalized snooping on your online activities.

If a statement from the FCC is any indication, the agency doesn't seem to be ready to offer much help. "As the Commission has recognized, copyright infringement has serious adverse consequences for the economy, and efforts to address this issue can and must co-exist with robust protections for Internet freedom and openness," it said.

That seems to suggest that the FCC does not plan to get involved in any effort, leaving the ISPs and copyright holders to decide on the appropriate measures to take against suspected copyright infringers.

That said, the deal is not too far off what ISPs currently do in most cases, it just merely codifies it. Some ISPs have already took it upon themselves to send messages to subscribers when they detect infringement, although that data up until now was not shared with copyright holders, unless under some type of court order.

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