Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New 'Six Strikes' anti-piracy mitigation measures finally detailed

Wondering how the new anti-piracy laws, dubbed "Six Strikes" is going to work? ISPs finally revealed the details of the plan, officially known as the "Copyright Alert System" or CAS, on Wednesday.

The nickname of "Six Strikes" gives end users an idea of how the plan is going to work. CAS is a partnership between the entertainment industry (content providers) and ISPs which designed to halt -- or at least slow -- online piracy. It works as follows:
  • Content creators monitor P2P networks to detect what they believe is illegal downloading of their property (this portion, to be honest, is already done).
  • The IP addresses of those they detect are then shared with their ISP
  • The ISP will then take a series of escalating actions against those account holders, up to level six, earning the program its "Six Strikes" nickname.
ISPs began implementing CAS this week. Until now, they have been silent about the fifth- and sixth-level actions they will take against users, which are the most punitive actions, naturally. It's already known that ISPs can pick the particular mitigation measures, as they are called, they wish to use. It's been known for a while that these measures can range from the relatively innocuous step of forcing a customer to watch an instructional video about copyright to extreme throttling of a user's data speed.

Again, ISPs are free to choose what measures they want to employ.

Of the major ISPs, Verizon is the only one that will cap customers' data speeds if copyright violations are discovered. Verizon will first issue a series of alerts and then force FiOS customers who repeatedly infringe on copyrighted material to watch instructional videos about copyright and legal methods of downloading content. If a customer still does not halt his or her piracy, they will see their data speed throttled to near dial-up speeds for two to three days.

Imagine that: a FiOS customer, who can see speeds as high as 300Mbps, seeing his speed reduced to about 56kbps. However, Verizon will give customers two weeks' notice before any slowdown occurs.

Comcast, on the other hand, won't throttle the speeds of any miscreants. Instead, repeat offenders will first be forced to confirm receipt of sternly worded warning emails, possibly acknowledging the email by clicking on a link. If their illegal downloading continues, they will receive persistent in-browser alerts, elimination of which will require a call to Comcast Security Assurance. Anyone who has been to a coffee shop that puts those persistent ads on the bottom of a browser window -- far less intrusive -- will probably shudder at the thought of such alerts.

When a user calls CSA, he or she will be educated on legal downloading alternatives and copyright infringement before the alerts are deactivated. Comcast's intent is less about punishment, the company said, and instead focuses on the mantra "inform, educate and engage."

Time Warner Cable will not throttle or terminate a customer's service under CAS mitigation. Instead, Time Warner Cable customers accused of piracy will receive a series of alerts which, if ignored, will lead to them experiencing a browser lock which can only be cleared by calling Time Warner Cable for -- similar to Comcast -- an instructional conversation about (yes) legal methods of downloading content and copyright. If it sounds more about education than punishment, you'd be right.

AT&T won't throttle users' speeds, either. Instead, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, AT&T customers accused of illegally downloading content will receive a series of alerts. After four such alerts, those who continue to download will be forced to visit an website that will "educate them on the distribution of copyrighted content online" before they can access any other websites. AT&T said the program -- like Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- focused on "customer education rather than punishment."

Customers of any ISP can appeal a CAS copyright alert for a $35 fee, which is waived if their appeal is granted or if they claim financial hardship.

Under CAS, ISPs can, if they so desire, terminate a customer's service. However, none of the major ISPs said that will go that far, although -- as they could do anyway -- they reserve the right to terminate a customer's service under their respective ToS.

Notably, CAS applies only to land-based Internet use; it does not affect Verizon Wireless or AT&T wireless service. Of course, both Verizon Wireless and AT&T would have a word with you if you were using as much bandwidth as someone using BitTorrent.

To be honest, these are all fairly modest punishments. In fact, they are more of an annoyance than an actual punishment, and a lot better than being sued by a content provider for thousands of dollars.

Will these modest efforts be enough to prevent piracy?  To some, they might seem too modest.  Time will tell.

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