Nearly three years after the RIAA said it was "close" to getting Internet service providers to help in their fight against online piracy, that assistance has finally arrived.
According to a new agreement unveiled today, the music, movie and ISP industries have agreed upon a graduated response system called "Copyright Alerts." The program sets a set of best practices for how ISP subscribers will be notified when their account has been identified as having been used to download infringing content such as music or movies, as well as a set of actions the ISP will take if the behavior continues.
Those collaborating on the deal include entertainment industry organizations like the RIAA, MPAA, A2IM and IFTA, along with associations representing the major ISPs (including Comcast, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon) such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
"This is an important step forward in the evolution of the Internet," said RIAA president Cary Sherman during a press conference introducing the agreement. "Until now, there hasn't been an common framework of best practices for alerting Internet subscribers about possible content theft."
The new program outlines up to six "alerts" that ISPs can opt to send. The first alert is more of a courtesy call, informing the user that their account was identified as one downloading infringing content, that such activity is a violation of their terms of service, and also and directs to educational resources for securing their network, finding authorized sources of content, and so on.
Both the ISPs and the entertainment industry groups said they believe most infringing activity will stop after the first warning, saying that studies show that a "large majority" of users stop content theft after receiving a notice. But they did not provide any specific data to back that up.
The second alert is much the same as the first, or ISPs could opt to skip right to the third alert, which not only repeats the information in the first two alerts, but also adds some sort of acknowledgement, such as a popup or landing page designed to ensure the message was received.
The fourth alert is another optional one, simple repeating everything in the third, or ISPs could go right to alert five, which is where "mitigation measures" come into play. These include anything from temporarily throttling bandwidth speeds of offending users, redirection to a landing page that can't be passed until the subscriber contacts the ISP directly. Shutting off Internet service completely is not one of the options. ISPs could choose not to implement any of these measures by the fifth alert, but under the agreement would be obligated to do so by the sixth alert.
At any stage in the alert process, users can stave off one of the mitigation measures by issuing a challenge. Challenges will be overseen by an independent entity, such as the American Arbitration Association.
Each ISP will be free to develop their own language for these alerts. And as part of the agreement, the parties involved have created a Center for Copyright Information. In addition to making public the above steps, the Center is also designed for ISPs to share with one another information on their individual actions so each can learn from the lessons of the other with the intent of creating better results for all.
The Center is also designed to "help educate consumers about content theft on the Internet," according to the release detailing the agreement. "It will help them to understand the difference between lawful and unlawful online downloading and file sharing. It will inform them about he importance of copyright to content creators, millions of American jobs, and the economy, and to them as consumers."
This Center for Copyright Information will be paid for and managed jointly by the ISPs and the entertainment industry.
All measures fall in line with what was widely reported last week, when news of the impending deal first leaked. As stated by sources, both the ISPs and the content community are spinning this as a customer education campaign, stressing phrased like "right to know" when customers accounts are used for piracy. It's clear the ISPs are treading carefully with the PR challenges this agreement poses.
"This is a sensible approach to the problem of online theft that respects the privacy and rights of our subscribers," said Tom Dailey, deputy general counsel for Verizon, who stressed that this is not a "three strikes" kind of program. "It's not new, just better."
Time Warner issued the following statement in support of the program:
"Among other things, the framework provides early alerts to broadband subscribers, who often are not aware that their Internet accounts are being used for online content theft. Ensuring that our subscribers have a safe and legal broadband experience is a top priority. We feel that the Copyright Alert framework, which focuses on consumer education, is a useful next step in that effort."
But this process also establishes a clear paper trail for chronic infringers should the RIAA or MPAA choose to pursue litigation against any individuals. Each step of the alerts process is designed to identify the individual responsible for an Internet account and ensure they have received warnings that their account has been identified as providing infringing material. At the end of the process, if infringement continues despite the mitigation measures implemented, any user ultimately sued by either the RIAA or MPAA would have a hard time convincing a judge or jury that they either didn't know about the activity, or that the activity was not being conducted by them.
Sherman said the individuals targeted in this program will all be peer-to-peer users, not users of streaming services, and more focused on those uploading content into P2P networks than those exclusively downloading content.