Will ISPs' 'six-strikes' plan really curb piracy?

'Educational' effort may -- or may not -- include stern measures

That major U.S. Internet service providers on Thursday announced a voluntarily agreement to help music and video producers reduce piracy is amazing given the ISPs' traditional resistance to the demands of copyrighted-content providers. But will the partnership be effective in reducing piracy? I'm not even sure how accurately copyright theft is measured, so solid answers likely will be elusive.

[Also see: So, you're being sued for piracy]

Still, the agreement could be a dramatic departure from the litigation-based efforts to snuff out copyright infringement developed by the music industry into a fine art. Under the deal, the ISPs will not be required to do any "police" work -- either filtering or monitoring their networks for cases of copyright infringement -- nor will they turn over the names of customers to the copyright holders (at least not without a court order). Here's what Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others have signed on to: If a copyright holder notifies an ISP that one of its customers is infringing on a copyright, the ISP will launch an "education" campaign that consists of six "copyright alerts," in which suspected violators are warned that The Corporate Man is onto them. The first four "copyright alerts" are all bluster-- I mean, "education." It's not until the fifth violation alert that the "mitigation measures" kick in. What that means is the ISP starts messing with the owner of the offending IP address, slowing down his or her Internet speeds, redirecting him or her to a landing page until they check in for some "education." If rehabilitation no longer is possible, the ISPs have a nuclear option: Cutting off service for its customers. But that's where most ISPs would lose some of their enthusiasm to help copyright holders protect their rights -- when it begins costing them customers. Indeed, the media companies know that, which is why the agreement doesn't require the ISPs to drop customers suspected of repeated copyright violations. Really, then, the effectiveness of this agreement on reducing piracy comes down to major ISPs' 1) ability to educate and 2) willingness to intimidate paying customers. Neither is among their core competencies, which doesn't bode well for this agreement.

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