IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

ISPs to monitor peer-to-peer file-sharing in new anti-piracy plan

A long-delayed plan to curb piracy — a collaboration between ISPs, copyright holders and the White House — is set to go into effect by the end of the year. The "six strike" policy for handling those who seek and distribute copyrighted files is described as educational, but also calls for punitive measures.

The "Copyright Alert System" has been in the works for years, and should be in action in the next few months, Jill Lesser, head of the Center for Copyright Information, told Wired. The CCI designed and has been promoting the alert system. While it was intended to launch sooner, public backlash around IP protection laws SOPA and PIPA was seen as potentially endangering the effort.

Copyright holders, such as the members of the RIAA and MPAA, have in the past resorted to filing thousands of lawsuits against file sharers, a tactic that is not only expensive and time-consuming, but is ineffective as a deterrent and often results in bad PR. There have been several well-publicized cases of people being bankrupted by the fines for trivial amounts of file sharing.

The CAS is seen as a more reasonable approach, though opponents raise objections regarding some core aspects, particularly that it is being put into place without user feedback. And given some potential outcomes, the CCI's description of it as an "educational" program doesn't exactly fit right.

It works like this: Instead of going straight from infringement to a cease-and-desist letter, there is an escalating series of alerts:

  • First and second offense, a courtesy notice that the user's connection was used for infringement.
  • Third and fourth offense, a more conspicuous alert, such as a pop-up or being redirected to a page describing the problem.
  • Fifth and sixth offense, one of several "mitigation measures" may be employed, such as throttling the connection or a more permanent redirect.

At any time, the user can request an independent review of their case, though it will cost $35 per challenge. Everyone also gets one "get out of jail free" card in the form of claiming the infringement was because of an unsecured Wi-Fi network. ISPs will have the final word on how far they take the measures, and may choose to go as far as terminating service or doing less than what is suggested.

Though it's a more realistic approach than what's been tried before, privacy advocates note that the policy still necessitates some level of invasive monitoring on the part of ISPs. And as the Electronic Frontier Foundation told NBC News in an email, the CAS was created and negotiated without any input from affected users:

In light of these repeated delays, it's especially frustrating that the ISPs and the media companies behind this agreement haven't taken the opportunity to revisit it altogether — this time with feedback from actual users. As it stands, the plan is tilted against the many subscribers of these large ISPs.

Also, as others have pointed out, the volume of traffic and potential infringement means that many of the infringement allegations will be made by automated systems — automation that could lead to embarrassing mistakes. And while it delineates actions by ISPs, it doesn't restrict or recommend actions by rights holders, who will remain free to sue suspected pirates.

Reservations aside, it appears the policy will be put in place and any objections or corrections will have to be handled after the fact.

The ISPs participating are AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon; each may implement their alerts differently. (NBCUniversal, parent of NBC News, is a subsidiary of Comcast.)

How the program works in theory is one thing, but the degree to which it will be enforced and the exact nature of the mitigation measures are still unknown. Once the CAS goes into effect later this year, further discussion — and even possible tweaks to the system — are to be expected.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is