ISPs, Studios Target Peer-to-Peer PiratesComcast, MPAA, others prep alert regime for illegal downloaders 10/29/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Comcast and its
fellow major ISPs are about to take a page from cellphone providers and start
alerting regular customers when they illegally access content via peer-to-peer
If that doesn't
work, those ISPs will fire off warnings about stronger measures, such as slower
traffic, or redirecting users, in an attempt to hit illegal downloaders where
it hurts: at speed and efficiency.
Comcast got into
trouble with the FCC in August 2008 for its slowing/blocking of BitTorrent
peer-to-peer traffic, a move that ultimately helped spur the FCC to codify its
Internet openness principles.
This time, however,
there is an industry-wide effort-including content providers and distributors-
aimed at warning folks who may not know they are pirating content via peer-to-peer
nets before they reach the point of ISP intervention. That's according to Jill
Lesser, executive director of the Center for Copyright Information and the
executive in charge of launching the new anti-piracy effort, which will roll
out across those ISPs over the next several weeks.
Lesser spoke with B&C
Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about the new consumer alert program.
What was the spur to this initiative?
After what I would
call disagreement over how to deal with the problem of peer-to-peer file
sharing between the content industry and the technology industry, this was the
culmination of a three-year effort to come to agreement on the best way to
combat the problem in a voluntary, consumer-friendly way.
Over the course of
those three years, as technology developed and people learned more about
consumer behaviors, the goal was educating consumers with a system that was
focused on reaching consumers where they can hear and understand you and then
focusing on the positive side, which is offering alternatives for finding
I think both sides
agree that there is an interest in decreasing piracy. The stars aligned after
So, which stars have aligned in this?
MPAA, IFTA [Independent
Film and Television Alliance], RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America]
and the five largest ISPs: AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Comcast and
When is this copyright alert system going into effect?
The system will
begin within the next several weeks. I don't have specific dates because we are
still wrapping up the technology development. As I think everybody knows, it's
hard to put hard dates on technology, but we are closing in on implementation.
So this will be a staggered rollout, rather than a one-day, coordinated
curtain-raiser. There are five separate systems, and ramp-ups within those
While consumers will
get notice of the implementation, most consumers won't get alerts and may not
be aware of the program because they are not engaging in peer-to-peer file
We saw a story saying the system would be used to
alert ISPs. We thought this was consumer-facing?
The process is that
the content owners generate a notice. They go out on a peer-to-peer network and
identify an IP address that is distributing the piece of content they are
looking for. They then send that notice to the ISP, which then matches it to
the subscriber using it and passes it along to the subscriber.
So the copyright
alert is a subscriber system, but the mechanism is kind of a one-way system
starting with the content owner looking through their content and then passing
on the notice to the ISP, which generates the alert to the consumers.
Why only peer-to-peer and not other types of illegal
Really because, No.
1, this was sort of what we could bite off and chew in this early stage of
cooperation in this voluntary initiative. I think that the other piece is that,
when you look at what the ISPs are best able to address since they are
providing the connectivity, this is the area where they can be most helpful in
passing along notices to consumers.
How does the content owner determine whether it is an
The content owner
has a sophisticated process for identifying copyrighted content. On the movie
side in particular, they use both an automated and a manual process to make
sure they are looking for a whole file as opposed to a clip.
Your website says that after a number of warnings,
companies can take steps to mitigate the situation, including slowing traffic.
Can you walk us through the alerts and talk about how they escalate and just
what mitigation measures are involved?
The system is
primarily intended to be educational and non-punitive. There are five or six
alert levels, depending on which company we are talking about. The first one or
two are educational. They try to say: âHey, you might not know you are doing
this. It might have been done by somebody in your house for a variety of
reasons. But, here is the file that you have allegedly traded. Here are some
ways to stop and some opportunities to find legal content.' If that computer
continues to be tagged, they get a second phase of an acknowledgment alert
which requires the user to say they had received it.
Once it reaches the
mitigation level, the goal is to stop people there and say: âHey, you have
received four or five of these and we really mean it.' Every company will have
a slightly different approach to what the mitigation measure is, but it is
going to take mostly the form of putting people on a landing page and putting
them through an educational video or curriculum that is very brief. It requires
someone to go through it to move on and get online.
Could this system
be expanded to other forms of illegal downloads?
We are hoping we will be successful in launching a program
that is consumer-friendly and that consumers respond to and reduces piracy. I
think that if it is successful, there is certainly an opportunity to bring
others to the table and also expand the program, but it is not something we are
in discussions on right now.
Is there an appeal
process for those who think they have been incorrectly targeted?
Yes, the process will be run by the American Arbitration
Association, and it will be offered when they receive one of the later alerts
and they can challenge the validity of the alert.
The website also
talked about slowing broadband speeds as another way to get their attention.
One of the ISPs is going to engage in a brief slowdown. So
for a couple of days you will see a reduction in your bandwidth speeds.
But there won't be any interruption of your service.
I can't say. I just want to make sure all the T's are
crossed and I's dotted before we release specifics about one company.
Will it also
include blocking and redirection?
You will try to fire up your browsers and you will be
redirected to some educational material, maybe for 10 minutes or less. And then
you are free to browse.
For some folks,
slowing and redirecting sounds like the sort of ISP conduct the FCC targeted in
its open Internet rules. How is this different?
I don't think it raises net neutrality issues. We hope that
the system works so that very few people get to this level of notice. The point
in getting to this level is that you have had four or five alerts saying you
need to stop this behavior.
This is not an issue of favoring one site over another or in
any way trying to affect their Internet service long-term. It is really
intended to catch people's attention and educate them briefly and then get them
back on their way.
But why wouldn't
someone ultimately lose service if they continued to illegally download
content? If you are a serial offender and refuse to stop, the ISP will just let
The program is not the sum total of all the tools that the
content industry and ISPs have at their disposal, obviously. But the
programming is really betting on the 90% of more of consumers who are not doing
this intentionally or trying to circumvent the law and who we believe will
respond to a system that is speaking to them in the right way. For people who
are attempting to be serial pirates and circumvent, a program like this is not
likely to change their behavior, so they are not really our target.
And once you have received six notices and you have gone
through one of these mitigation measures, I think that our view is not to waste
resources by continuing to send you alerts you are not responding to. You are
just out of the program. At that point, the content owners have a number of opportunities
at their disposal to pursue their legal rights.
ISPs have prohibitions in their terms of service as well,
and neither of those things is affected by the program. But we really believe
that this program will reach and help the vast majority and reduce the overall
use of illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. Hard-scale pirates always have to be
dealt with separately.
What is your own
Law and technology policy. I was with AOL for almost a
decade leading their domestic policy team.
What exactly is the
Center for Copyright Information?
An organization established under a memorandum of
understanding between the content industry and the five largest ISPs to help do
two things: Implement the Copyright Alert System and educate the public about
the system and the alternatives for finding content online.
And how do you
educate the public about the program so you don't get the kind of online
pushback that helped kill online piracy-prevention measures in SOPA/PIPA
We are trying to get that info out now. Also, in advance of
any of the implementation, we are launching a totally redesigned website for
the Center. Our website has been talking to people who already understand this.
Our new site will be targeted to consumers. 'I just got an alert. What is this
and what do I do? How does the process work?'
There are a lot of people who, when you talk about
copyright, their eyes glaze over and they have no idea what you are talking
about. So, this is talking to people about the content they love, the movies
and TV shows, and what it means to try and find that content legally and why.
This program has
gotten some criticism.
We are seeing some pushback from certain advocacy groups
based on incomplete information. That will happen, but hopefully the consumers
we are trying to get to will see it as a positive move, and not anything akin
I think, most importantly, for those people who are really
concerned about SOPA/PIPA because it was a potential overbroad government
change in the legal structure for the Internet, this is precisely the kind of
answer that people will be looking for. It is voluntary, and in stage one, and
is certainly changeable and nimble. Hopefully this is the way you combat a
clearly legal problem without having to have unintended consequences, which I
think was the main legitimate complaint about SOPA and PIPA.
How important is it
for cable operators and other ISPs to get a handle on these illegal downloads,
particularly as they move their content to the Web via TV Everywhere?
If you look at the way that their business model has changed
over the past decade, I think it goes without saying that they have an interest
in it and that they wouldn't be doing it if it was not in their business
I think getting this right and seeing a change in attitude
on the part of consumers about embracing these new ways to get content will