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ISPs agree to six strikes copyright enforcement

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Internet users beware: you've now got six strikes against copyright infringement before your account can enter a "mitigation phase." Major Internet providers, including Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others, have agreed to saddle up with the music and movie businesses to finally start cracking down on media piracy by issuing a series of strongly worded, educational letters to offenders. Six of them, actually, with a chance for mitigation in the end.

The new policy runs off a "copyright alert" system, in which a user will be notified if their account is associated with illegal downloading. It's curious the film and music industries didn't push for something a little tougher -- something like, I don't know, throwing violators into a pit with lions or something -- but as far as repercussions are concerned, this is pretty lightweight stuff.

That's partially because it seems like the ISPs only agreed to this if they didn't actually have to work very hard. First, it's a one-way notification, so your privacy will remain intact if you happen to caught in a torrent swarm with Watch the Throne in your queue. Second, it's more about education, not prosecution. There is still an adage that parents aren't aware kids are illegally downloading things, so the "copyright alerts" will act as friendly little reminders to take a closer look at that "TORRENTZ 2011" folder that's been on the desktop for the last week.

If you do receive a "copyright alert," you'll be able to argue your point in front of an independent review. This would be the time where you'd throw your neighbor under the bus for using your "stealing" your Wi-Fi password, or your brother-in-law who stayed with you for a week. The ISPs are only making money off of their customers, not the record and film industries, so it's in their interest to protect you as much as possible. At no point will an ISP turn over your information to someone on their own accord.

Here's what the "copyright alerts" will actually look like when you get them in your email box.

First: A friendly note stating your account "may have been misused for content theft, that content theft is illegal and a violation of published policies."

Second: Pretty much the same as the first, stressing that you may be unwittingly pirating by keeping your Wi-Fi network open, or that you should make sure someone in your house isn't downloading something illegally.

Third: If you receive a third alert, you'll have to prove you received the alert by clicking through an acknowledgement page. It will say pretty much the same thing as the first two.

Four: You guessed it. You'll get another email.

Five: Okay here we go, this is where things actually change. First, you'll get another email alert. Second, your ISP can start doing whatever they want, which includes, reducing Internet speeds, redirecting landing pages and forced exposure to educational information about copyright.

Six: This one is pretty much the same as five and can be used at the ISPs whim.

It's not actually as draconian as it sounds -- this is a system that should have probably been instituted years ago when torrents were all the rage, but as piracy evolves and moves away from P2P, it's going to be harder for automatic algorithms to pick up violations. Still, its a step in the right direction. If nothing else, people can stop pretending like they're not doing anything wrong -- although it is weird the music and film industries would be trusting American's moral fiber and sense of guilt to keep them from violating copyright.

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