Digital Top Stories

AT&T may launch six-strikes next month

By | Published on Tuesday 16 October 2012


According to TorrentFreak, American tel co AT&T will start sending out anti-piracy warning letters to customers believed to be accessing unlicensed content from 28 Nov. The letters will inform file-sharing customers about the copyright implications of their actions, and it’s thought that continued accessing of unlicensed content sources after receiving such letters could result in customer-specific web blocks being instigated.

The three-strikes style system is the result of that previously reported alliance between the US record and movie industries and most of the big internet service providers in America. First revealed in July 2011, under the alliance the ISPs pledged to help the content industries protect their copyrights online by sending copyright alerts to customers suspected of illegally file-sharing.

Under that agreement, customers who ignore warnings will be subject to sanctions, to be decided on by each ISP individually, though ultimately it will be for the rights owners to take legal action against the most persistent file-sharers, with a central information exchange enabling labels and studios to identify who those file-sharers are. It’s thought five copyright alerts would be sent before action of that kind was pursued, making this basically a six-strikes system.

The 2011 deal between the American content industries and net companies was quite an achievement, given similar efforts to persuade ISPs to voluntarily introduce anti-piracy systems of this kind in other territories have in the main been unsuccessful, with the music and movie industries instead looking to governments to force the net providers into action. And the deal will be all the more impressive if it actually results in the launch of a widespread warning letters system against file-sharers.

The deal-making Stateside was presumably helped by the fact many of the country’s key ISPs are also content owners or providers themselves, either as cable TV networks or part of bigger entertainment groups. Certainly in the UK, Virgin Media and Sky have generally been more willing to assist the British content industries, them having a vested interest in combating the unlicensed accessing of content, especially movies.

Because it has been initiated by a voluntary agreement in America, each ISP will instigate the six-strikes process in a slightly different way, though all would ultimately hand over data to the central Center For Copyright Information, which will enable rights owners to decide who to sue. It’s thought that, before that stage, AT&T will block access to certain websites for those customers who persistently file-share, forcing them to read a copyright statement and complete a copyright quiz to unlock any blocks.

Neither the ISPs nor the music and movie industries have actually commented on any of this as yet, with TorrentFreak’s report based on a confidential AT&T staff briefing that has been leaked. Though if a process is launched like that described in the TorrentFreak article, it would likely put the US ahead of even those countries where governments have forced ISPs to act, with countries like France and New Zealand, amongst the first to legislate three-strikes, now struggling to decide exactly how strike three should work.

Of course whether any of this will actually combat online piracy is another debate. Critics will always point out that prolific file-sharers are already good at hiding their activity from both rights owners and their own ISPs, and that other kinds of file-sharing (ie not P2P) have boomed in recent years that aren’t necessarily being tracked. Though those who advocate three-strikes et al still reckon that more casual file-sharers not sufficiently tech savvy to circumvent the checks could be persuaded to use only legit music services with an appropriately written warning, and it is that bigger audience that is the target of this activity.