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A New Online Copyright Violation Alert System Starts Taking Shape With Citizen Advocates On Board

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Monday, April 2 2012

Americans accessing the Internet through five of the top service providers may start receiving "copyright alerts" in the near future, as a new organization called the Center for Copyright Information develops a new operational framework designed to make individuals aware that their potentially illegal activities online are being monitored.

The center on Monday announced that it has hired as executive director Jill Lesser, who has a background in the world of public policy, media and technology. Until recently, she was a managing director at the Glover Park Group, a strategic communications and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, she also worked as the director of the civic media project at People for the American Way, and as a senior vice president for domestic public policy at AOL Time Warner.

The new center is a collaborative initiative that was first announced last July between service providers AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon and the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America. In addition to Lesser's appointment, the center also announced an advisory board of consumer advocates who have been among the most prominent voices and brains inside the Beltway for citizens' online rights for the past few decades. They include Jerry Berman, founder of the Center for Democracy and Technology and chairman of the Internet Education Foundation; Marsali Hancock, president of iKeepsafe.org; Jules Polonetsky, co-director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum; and Gigi Sohn, co-founder of Public Knowledge.

The news of this new group forming is especially noteworthy because many of its members have been at rhetorical loggerheads against each other for the better part of a decade on copyright issues on Capitol Hill.

The executive board is composed of RIAA Executive Vice President and General Counsel Steven M. Marks, MPAA Senior Vice President Marianne Grant, Comcast Senior Counsel Alane Lewine, Viacom Associate General Counsel Daniel Mandil and AT&T's vice president of public policy, Brent Olson.

The advisory board will "actively consult on issues the Executive Board is considering with regards to the design and implementation of the [copyright alert system] as well as CCI's educational framework," a press statement says.

Under the system envisioned by the Center for Copyright Information, Internet subscribers will receive a series of online alerts every time an ISP receives a notification from the MPAA or RIAA that an account may be potentially violating copyrights by uploading or downloading pirated content online. Some ISPs might optionally choose to implement "mitigation measures," such as splicing themselves into a subscriber's online activities and redirecting them to warning pages about copyright infringement. Some of those subscribers identified by the ISPs through their unique Internet addresses might also find their access slowed down the fifth time they are warned — until the subscriber sorts out the issue with the ISP. The Center for Copyright Information announced Monday that it has retained the American Arbitration Association to manage potential disputes between subscribers accused of copyright infringement and the ISPs.

The system represents a compromise of sorts, since the entertainment industries have been pushing for a more draconian solution of cutting suspected infringers off from Internet access completely, for limited amounts of time, after repeated warnings. This would be similar to the French Hadopi system.

“It was not an easy decision for me to join this Advisory Board," Public Knowledge's Sohn said in a press statement. "I did so because I saw the need to be an advocate for the rights of Internet users and to provide transparency."

She added:

“As I did when the system was announced, I still have concerns about some of the points in the agreement to establish the CAS. One of the most prominent is the threat that consumers could have their access to the Internet cut off. I will ask at the appropriate time for the ISPs to promise not to interpret the agreement’s ‘temporary restriction’ provision as allowing for suspension of user Internet accounts. This provision is most troubling because an individual could lose access to the Internet just on the basis of suspicion alone.

“If implemented reasonably, the Copyright Alert System should alleviate the push for government intervention and excessive litigation and ultimately be a net positive. However, for that to be the case, it is imperative that we address this issue and future concerns raised by the Internet community.

The Center for Copyright Information has a useful FAQ here that addresses many of the inevitable questions about whether the new system will effectively create a "blacklist" of users (No,) whether it's creating a web filtering system (No,) and whether repeat offenders will indeed be cut off from their Internet access (No.)