ISPs Agree to Scold Users Suspected of Copyright Violations

But service cutoffs not on the table yet

Illegal downloaders could see their Net access slowed, according to a new anti-piracy initiative implemented by Internet service providers at the behest of large copyright owners in the entertaiment industry. Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, and Verizon have all signed onto the new effort, called the Copyright Alert System.

Unlike in past attempts to curb illegal downloading, the new initiative aims to make users think twice before using a file-sharing service like BitTorrent. But the process for making them do so remains undefined. Under the most likely scenario, suspected violators identified by outside contractors for the entertainment companies will receive email alerts from their ISP the first and second time a violation is detected. The third and fourth alerts will likely require the Internet subscriber to confirm they’ve received the notices.

If subsequent warnings are required, the ISPs have pledged to take some sort of action against the customer—although even that isn't clear. Reducing the speed of the user’s Internet connection is one option; suspending service altogether is another, although Comcast, for one, says it will not cut any customers off. Repeat offenders may also be redirected to an educational page about copyright infringement.

The effort is the first of its kind for ISPs, which have traditionally declaimed responsibility for policing their customers' traffic.

Civil liberties groups are already voicing concern that the initiative might limit users' rights to freely use the Internet. A fair and efficient mode of contesting claims has also yet to be worked out. The ISPs have pledged not to pass on the identity of suspected offenders to entertainment companies.

[This story has been updated.]