July 7 (Bloomberg) -- Internet-service providers including AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. promised to take a more active role in fighting online piracy in an agreement with the entertainment industry announced today.
The ISPs, which also include Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp., will send as many as six electronic alerts to customers whose accounts are allegedly being used to download or distribute illegal movies, television shows or music, according to a news release.
Customers who receive repeated alerts may have their Internet speed temporarily reduced, or have their Web access restricted until they discuss the matter with their Internet-service provider or review “educational” information about copyright, according to a fact sheet about the program.
Internet subscribers can request an independent review before any restrictions are imposed under the agreement. The system is aimed at pirated music, movies and other content shared through online peer-to-peer networks.
The program, a voluntary set of industry best practices, is backed by trade groups representing the entertainment and media industries, including the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
“This broad industry effort builds on existing agreements with several copyright owners to forward their notices of alleged infringement to ISP subscribers,” Verizon General Counsel Randal Milch said in a statement.
Milch said the alert system is “designed to notify and educate customers, not to penalize them” and is aimed at informing customers about copyright laws and encouraging them to obtain content from “the many legal sources that exist.”
Piracy of digital movies, music and software cost businesses from $30 billion to $75 billion in 2008 in the Group of 20 leading global economies, according to a February report commissioned by the International Chamber of Commerce from Frontier Economics, a London-based consulting firm.
The Obama administration and U.S. lawmakers have increased efforts to combat online piracy this year. In March, President Barack Obama released 20 recommendations that would toughen sentences for stealing intellectual property and give authorities stronger laws to go after websites that sell pirated content.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill May 26 targeting so-called “rogue” websites, which sell or distribute illegally copied music, movies and consumer products. The measure would allow the U.S. attorney general to seek court orders requiring U.S.-based Internet-service providers to block access to infringing sites, among other things.
The committee on June 16 approved a measure that would make illegal video streaming a felony offense in some cases. Obama administration officials also have backed the idea of making illegal video streaming a felony.
The program announced today “will have a significant impact on reducing online piracy,” and is “consistent with our strategy of encouraging voluntary efforts to strengthen online intellectual property enforcement,” Victoria Espinel, the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, wrote in a White House blog post.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital-rights group, is concerned that “ISPs have agreed to serve as propaganda machines for big media” under the program, Corynne McSherry, the group’s intellectual property director, said in an interview.
Copyright information contained in the customer alerts may be “skewed toward draconian view of how copyright law works” and not inform people about the “fair use” doctrine allowing use of copyrighted works for limited purposes, McSherry said.
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