Guilty of online piracy? Verizon may slow your high-speed Internet service to a crawl.
The company is considering punishing subscribers who illegally share movies or songs on the Internet by temporarily throttling their Web service to dial-up speeds.
An internal Verizon document leaked online Friday outlines the proposed "copyright alert program." The plan is part of a controversial strategy being rolled out in coming weeks by the entertainment industry and major Internet providers to crack down on Internet piracy, which content creators say costs them billions in lost revenue each year.
Under Verizon's proposed program, subscribers accused of copyright infringement will receive a series of alerts, which critics of such programs call "six strikes." After the first two offenses, Verizon will send emails to subscribers with a link allowing them to see if illegal file-sharing is operating on their computers and how to remove it, according to the leaked document, which was confirmed as authentic by a Verizon spokesman.
After the next two offenses, Verizon will redirect subscribers' browsers to a website where they must acknowledge receiving the alerts and watch a short video about "the consequence of copyright infringement," according to the document. After the fifth and sixth notices, accused copyright violators have the option of either accepting slower Internet speeds for two to three days or asking an arbitrator to review whether they are guilty of Internet piracy -- for the price of $35. If the arbitrator rules in the user's favor, the $35 is refunded and his or her Internet speeds go untouched.
Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden said the leaked document was "a discussion draft" and had not been finalized. He said the company would send notices to subscribers about the copyright alert program in coming weeks.
Verizon, which has about 23 million landline customers in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, is one of five major Internet service providers -- along with AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable -- who have partnered with the recording and movie industries on a new strategy to deter copyright violators. The shift in strategy comes one year after controversial anti-piracy legislation, known as SOPA and PIPA, sparked an Internet outcry and failed to pass Congress.
Time Warner Cable's plan is similar to Verizon's, but instead of throttling Internet speeds of accused copyright violators, the company plans to temporarily suspend their service until they call a customer service representative and agree to stop pirating copyrighted material, according to spokesman Alex Dudley. It was unclear when Time Warner Cable's program would take effect, he said.
Representatives for Comcast and Cablevision did not return requests for comment about their copyright alert programs. An AT&T spokesman declined to comment.
Some industry observers questioned whether the plans will be effective. Internet users who frequently engage in illegal file-sharing often use private networks or proxy services to disguise the location of their computers, noted Karl Bode, editor of the blog DSL Reports, which covers the broadband industry.
"As a result, these plans are much more about scaring most users away from piracy, as opposed to accomplishing the impossible task of trying to completely stop piracy on ISP networks," Bode wrote Friday.
In addition, accused copyright violators will not be allowed to repeatedly blame unsecured wireless routers for illegal file-sharing on their networks, a restriction that could affect small businesses that provide Wi-Fi access to customers or subscribers who leave their Wi-Fi unsecured, the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted when the program was first discussed in 2011.
In a blog post last fall, the Center for Copyright Information -- which is coordinating the program between the movie and music industries and the Internet service providers -- sought to clarify misconceptions that accused copyright violators could permanently lose Internet service.
"This is not a 'six-strikes-and-you’re-out' system that would result in termination," the post said. Instead, it called the copyright alert system a "progressive system aimed at educating Internet subscribers about digital copyright and the potential consequences of inadvertent or purposeful copyright violations through peer-to-peer networks."
But beyond the new strategy, Internet users could still have their service terminated for engaging in Internet piracy. Under Time Warner Cable's subscriber agreement, the company reserves the right to terminate or suspend the service of account holders "even for a single act of copyright infringement."