Piracy Warnings Kick in for AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon Customers
October 21, 2012 1:50 PM
If you download files via bittorrent, you may receive a menacing notice
With lawsuit campaigns generating a firestorm of negative publicity and in general
losing far more than they make in settlements
, big media is turning to a new tactic on its "war" on piracy.
I. Warnings Rollout
AT&T, Inc. (
), Cablevision Systems Corp. (
), Comcast Corp. (
), Time Warner Cable, Inc. (
), and Verizon Communications Inc. (
) will become test candidates for a
new system of warnings
to customers who file share. The rollout will last about two months, and by the end pirating customers may be in for unpleasant surprises.
The media industry will largely be "footing the bill" for the piracy policing. Their efforts rely on a company called MarkMonitor, which trolls BitTorrent networks, collecting IP addresses. MarkMonitor recently became a subsidiary of Thomson Reuters Corp. (
) in July, ending over a decade of independence. The company has made a name for itself fighting against
illicit online drug marketplaces
and so-called travel agency "brand-jacking". Now it sets its sights on the biggest challenge of them all -- trying to sneak around the underbelly of the peer-to-peer piracy and data-mine information on its participants.
The information collected will be anonymized and sent to the ISPs, who will in turn match it to their customers and send out warnings. The initial warning will be a "friendly" notice with suggestions of how to obtain content legally and tips on securing your connection (in case the infringer is a third party).
If customers do not heed the warning and continue to show up on MarkMonitor's list, they will next be asked to sign a waive acknowledging they received the latest warning. After that, additional warnings will earn "mild" punishments, including throttling the user's connection or forcing them to watch "educational" anti-piracy programming in order to keep connected.
Digital pirates will face warnings and mile punishments, thanks to a new alliance between ISPs and big media.
Users who feel they have been unjustly notified can challenge the notice -- but it will cost them. The cost per challenge is a one-time fee of $35 USD.
The program is being overseen by the
Center for Copyright Information
(CCI). Its big media backers including the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the
Recording Industry Association of America
(RIAA), both notorious in their own right
for committing for-profit "piracy" of small content-producers' work
. Other major participants in the CCI are individual big content producers including Sony Corp. (
), The Walt Disney Comp. (
), News Corp. (
) (and its Fox subsidiaries), and Vivendi SA (
) subsidiaries UMG and EMI.
II. Piracy Killer? Uncertainty Remains
No one knows quite how well the system -- geared at annoying pirates enough to change their ways -- will work. But assuming that big media sticks to its promise of not terminating file sharers, it's at least a step forward from the punitive and unaccountable tactics used in the past -- tactics that hurt both customers and the media industry's pocketbooks.
a tough puzzle
One question is whether it is harmful in the first place. After all, copying illicitly a digital work is somewhat different than stealing a physical commodity. Some evidence indicates that piracy is not truly costing the industry any revenue (in the sense that customers often use piracy to sample, and would not necessarily buy the content legitimately in the absence of piracy). Some evidence even points to piracy increasing revenues, evidenced by studies that show
pirates purchase more music legally
than their peers.
It is unclear whether piracy hurts media revenue. [Image Source: MiNDFOOD]
So what exactly are the best ways to stop online piracy? Much promise exists in the option of ad-supported content models, such as internet radio. But the challenge is getting big media on board with these kinds of new technologies, when their executives are often fearful that they will hurt their company's bottom line.
A final question is whether the industry will keep its promise regarding no terminations, or whether this is simply a prelude to more draconian measures. In
a recent leaked letter
the RIAA expressed its desire to terminate pirates. But of course, such a plan would likely be resisted by the ISPs who
balk at the idea of turning away paying customers
. In the face of that resistance it's unclear whether big media could manage to push any sort of more punitive plan into place.
“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls
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