Digital Top Stories

US industry strikes deal with ISPs over piracy action, European industry responds

By | Published on Friday 8 July 2011

Warning Letter

Much of the American internet service provider industry yesterday signed up to a voluntary agreement with trade bodies representing the music and movie sectors in which they basically committed to introduce a three-strikes style system to combat illegal file-sharing, though there could be six strikes before ‘technical measures’ are introduced. They are calling it ‘copyright alerts’, and have so far been mainly stressing the educational components.

Each participating ISP – and the agreement includes all the big guys like Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon – will be able to implement the “graduated response” system set out in the deal in their own way, using their own terminology, but if a user fails to respond to warnings that illegal content is being accessed via their net connection five times then the ISP will be obliged to instigate a “technical measure”.

Those measures will most likely include so called ‘bandwidth throttling’, or maybe temporary suspension of access to the net until the user phones in and commits to stop accessing or sharing unlicensed music and movies. Full-on suspensions or disconnections, or anything more draconian, are not part of the agreement. Though some have pointed out that the paper trail the warning process will create will make it easier for content owners to sue a prolific file-sharer should they wish to.

Any user who feels they have been unfairly targeted will be able to make an appeal to an independent body run by the net and content industries. Meanwhile a Center For Copyright Information will enable ISPs to share information about their three-strikes activities.

The deal, assuming it works, gives the US content industries a head start over their counterparts in much of the rest of the world with regards the whole three-strikes thing, despite them being a little late to this party. It was the European record industry, and especially the UK sector, which quickly rejected suing individual music fans as a strategy for combating file-sharing, instead arguing ISPs should take a more proactive role in policing piracy.

Attempts to strike a voluntary agreement between the content and net firms on tackling file-sharing mainly failed over here, leading the former to instead lobby for a change in the law to force the ISPs to act. Although in France and the UK those lobbying efforts were successful, and the French statutory three-strikes system is already underway, arguably any graduated response programme endorsed by the ISPs is going to be more effective.

The American industry, which continued with the sue-the-fans strategy long after it had been proven futile, now looks likely to get its variation of three-strikes working much quicker – and very possibly sooner than here in the UK – as a result of not having to go the ‘new copyright law’ route.

Welcoming the agreement regards a ‘copyright alert’ system, the boss of the Recording Industry Association Of America, Cary Sherman, told reporters yesterday: “This is an important step forward in the evolution of the internet. Until now, there hasn’t been an common framework of best practices for alerting internet subscribers about possible content theft”.

Speaking for the net sector, Time Warner – which is obviously also a rights owner through its movie and TV businesses – said: “Among other things, the framework provides early alerts to broadband subscribers, who often are not aware that their internet accounts are being used for online content theft. Ensuring that our subscribers have a safe and legal broadband experience is a top priority. We feel that the copyright alert framework, which focuses on consumer education, is a useful next step in that effort”.

Needless to say, the European record industry responded positively to the news of the American agreement, and used it to pile pressure on ISPs over here, who in the main have resisted any efforts to get them more involved in policing piracy.

The boss of UK record label trade body BPI, Geoff Taylor, told CMU: “The UK cannot afford to fall behind as economies go digital. The US has already taken bold steps to protect jobs in its creative sector, and this new agreement confirms that ISPs must play a key role in reducing illegal network traffic. France has acted on this already. It’s time for the foot-dragging to stop. ISPs like BT and Talk Talk [who have tried to overturn the British three-strikes system through judicial review] should be helping to build an internet that benefits law-abiding consumers, rather than pulling every trick they can to hold on to revenue from illegal traffic”.

Speaking for the European independent sector, IMPALA’s Helen Smith added: “If ISPs can deliver in the USA, this should also be possible in Europe. The European Commission has a vital role in brokering a similar agreement with European ISPs, whilst also ensuring an adequate legislative approach to tackle copyright infringement online”.

Earlier this week, the government’s culture man Ed Vaizey referenced the then expected agreement between music and movie companies and ISPs in the US, saying it may provide a globally relevant framework for how content and net firms could work together on piracy. He also urged BT and Talk Talk to invest their time into finding a way to make the graduated response system put in place by the UK Digital Economy Act workable, rather than trying to have the whole thing overturned.

Meanwhile at the BPI’s AGM on Wednesday, he pledged to get those anti-piracy measures enabled by the DEA up and running as soon as possible, conceding that progress so far had been slower than he would have liked. While urging the record companies present to be as equally proactive in ensuring new licensed music services could launch, Vaizey said he had no time for those who oppose a crack down on file-sharing as a point of principle.

Vaizey: “What more than irks are the apologists for infringement, those who assert that copyright itself is an outmoded conspiracy, designed to put money into the pockets of corporations at the expense of ordinary people and so called ‘real artists’. Supposedly you can’t be a real artist and make real money. Such people tend to make a lot of noise, but little of it is constructive”.