A group of major Internet service providers (ISPs), content provider organizations and two leading industry associations just announced last week the establishment of the Center for Copyright Information to better educate the public about appropriate online copyright usage and a soon-to-be-implemented uniform Copyright Alert System in hopes of deterring unauthorized Internet use of copyrighted materials. Included as signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding (the Copyright Alerts MOU), which outlines both initiatives, are the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Disney Studios, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., UMG, EMI, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
Unlawful sharing, downloads and use of copyrighted materials over the Internet has been the bane of many creators of copyrighted works, particularly the major record labels and movie studios. The music industry has had some success in pursuing infringement through lawsuits against significant peer-to-peer site operators (e.g., Grokster and LimeWire). It has also experienced somewhat mixed results and lots of negative PR via aggressive lawsuits by RIAA against individual users. For their part, ISPs have been burdened with assisting, at least indirectly, in related policing efforts by virtue of administering takedown policies and procedures pursuant to Section 512 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).
So, while not abandoning altogether their current practices and rights, the signatories to the Copyright Alerts MOU will implement a system of uniform notices that content organizations can send to participating ISPs, which will then issue a series of escalating alerts to alleged infringers that seek to halt the alleged infringing activity. The types of alerts in ascending order are (i) an Educational Step Copyright Alert, (ii) an Acknowledgment Step Copyright Alert, (iii) a Mitigation Measure Copyright Alert Step. For each step there may also be multiple alert notices provided to an applicable user. Measures proposed at the Mitigation Step include a reduction in upload/download transmission speeds, a step down to a lower tier service, redirection to a landing page until the matter is resolved, and restrictions on Internet access. There are several “warning bells” along the alert steps as well as an appeals procedure (although a user is required to pay a $35 fee to pursue an appeal).
The tenor of the Copyrights Alert MOU and an FAQ on the Center for Copyright Information’s website makes clear that this is intended as a sort of experiment to address a problem for which a solution has long eluded a diverse group of stakeholders. While it is too early to judge how this will work in practice, it appears to be a constructive effort worth watching.