Guilt by Accusation

Last week, the industry rolled out the Copyright Alert System. Participating ISPs, like Comcast and Verizon, will notify and restrict customers who are alleged to have infringed a copyright. Infringements might include downloading movies or music via a P2P network such as BitTorrent. However, compromised PCs and Macs could make customers unwitting offenders.

The system takes the form of a “six strikes” rule. The specific penalties for each strike differ by ISP. They typically start with email notifications for strikes one and two. Customers will be directed to services where they can purchase digital movies and music.

After strike three, the customer’s browser may be redirected to a warning page. He or she will need to acknowledge the alleged offense and pledge not to engage in illegal activity. A fourth strike might result in a pop-up containing a phone number. The customer would be required to call that number before attempting to use the Internet.

After the fifth and sixth strikes, some ISPs will restrict the customer’s bandwidth severely. Others will simply censor the vast majority of the web. In doing so, ISPs effectively render the Internet connection useless for most tasks. Ostensibly, customer bills will not change to reflect any degradation in service.

Verizon and Comcast customers will have to spend $35 (on top of their regular monthly service fees) for arbitration if the accusations are in dispute. After 6 months without an alleged infringement, the clock resets.

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