Copyright Alert System: How ISPs Will 'Break Your Internet' If They Catch You Pirating

11/23/2012 02:30 pm ET | Updated Nov 23, 2012

You might want to think twice before downloading anything illegally in the near future.

Following the untimely demise of proposed anti-piracy laws SOPA and PIPA, five Internet service providers (specifically AT&T, Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon) worked with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Obama administration to create another set of protocols to stop digital pirates in their tracks.

The result was the “Six Strikes” initiative, a program that allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to directly penalize users who downloaded pirated content. How ISPs planned to punish the users, though, was left largely unsaid in the initiative’s actual text, leading to months of information vacuum filled only by the Center for Copyright Information’s vague promises that penalties could include anything from the following, according to the CCI's official description of the Copyright Alert System:

[T]emporary reductions of Internet speeds, redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter, or reviews and responds to some educational information about copyright, or other measures (as specified in published policies) that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter.

Rules laid out by top service providers so far have offered a few more details on the penalties that could result for offenders.

Verizon recently announced it would throttle offenders’ Internet speeds without saying by how much. Time Warner Cable on November 15th said that it would restrict repeat offenders' Internet browsing “by directing them to a landing page” without specifying “for how long users will be restricted to the landing page or what websites they will be able to reach, if any," according to Torrent Freak. And AT&T, in a leaked internal training memo published by Torrent Freak, said it would block customer access to frequently visited websites “until they complete an online copyright course;” the company did not say, however, what the course will entail or which websites will be blocked.

So, what new information can we glean from these announcements?

Sadly, very little. The ISPs behind the “six strikes” initiative have continued their trend of giving their customers as little information as possible. (Which sites will be blocked, guys?). But at this point, that’s largely how ISPs are expected to behave. To their credit, Verizon and Time Warner have said they won’t consider terminating Internet service to even the most prolific of pirates, which means the initiative is “more valid under human rights law," according to CNET.

The RIAA and MPAA, though, have kept a clause in the initiative that lets them demand personal information about copyright infringers from ISPs after the “fifth strike” -- which Torrent Freak takes to mean that these organizations may end up suing those who repeatedly pirate content.

The initiative is unlikely to deter hard-core pirates, who frequently use anonymizing services or private networks to cover their digital tracks. Instead, the initiative is aimed at those who pirate infrequently, or those who pirate without knowing their actions are illegal, says Jill Lesser, head of the Center for Copyright Information, who spoke with Ars Technica about the plan back in September. Apparently, the plan isn't designed to trip up the most serious offenders.

Earlier on HuffPost:

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