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25 Feb, 2013 18:18

US Internet providers start spy program to stop file-sharing

US Internet providers start spy program to stop file-sharing

Starting this week, Internet Service Providers will start throttling connection speeds for customers alleged to be pirating copyright-protected materials.

Months after a controversial “six-strike” program was slated to be rolled out by the biggest ISPs in the United States, the Copyright Alert System (CAS) confirmed on Monday that the initiative has gone live.

The program, critiqued by Internet freedom activists and privacy advocates alike, will let ISPs take six steps of escalating severity in handling incidents where customers are believed to be illegally sharing material. Through the “graduate response” approach, suspected copyright criminals could be issued a series of warnings for illegally downloading protected content.

With the first strike caught by the CAS, a customer could be issued a warning. As strikes increase, however, “mitigation measures,” connection speed throttling and termination of service are all possible options.

“Practically speaking, this means our content partners will begin sending notices of alleged P2P [peer-to-peer] copyright infringement to ISPs, and the ISPs will begin forwarding those notices in the form of Copyright Alerts to consumers,” Jill Lesser of the Center for Copyright Information rights in a blog post on Monday.

“Consumers whose accounts have been used to share copyrighted content over P2P networks illegally (or without authority) will receive Alerts that are meant to educate rather than punish, and direct them to legal alternatives. And for those consumers who believe they received Alerts in error, an easy to use process will be in place for them to seek independent review of the Alerts they received,” she adds — neglecting to mention that the appeals process costs customers $35 a pop.

Previously, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision Systems and other ISPs have signed onto the program, which was last scheduled to start in July 2012. Gigi Sohn, president of digital rights group Public Knowledge, told Wired last year that originally ISPs hoped to roll out the program earlier, but major protests against other restrictive Web policies, including attempts to pass certain legislation, left them to wait until the dust settled.

“SOPA and PIPA definitely had an impact. There was some concern, if they moved ahead too quickly, public opinion would be so raw, this would be caught in the whirlwind of bad PR,” Sohn told Wired.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation notes that the official CSI six-strikes website lets users learn more about the history of copyright, but does so by re-directing them to a page managed by the Copyright Alliance — the same group that advocated heavily for last year’s failed Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.

When the six-strikes program was first introduced, the White House issued an official statement saying it should “have a significant impact on reducing online piracy.”