Comcast Praises Voluntary BitTorrent Crackdown Agreement

Starting this summer millions of BitTorrent users in the United States will be tracked as part of a voluntary agreement between the MPAA, RIAA and all the major ISPs. Those who are caught sharing copyrighted works will receive several warning messages and eventual punishment if they continue to infringe. Commenting on the plans, Comcast Vice President Gerard Lewis praised the cooperation as a good model that safeguards privacy, while educating the public.

gerardLast week the Creative Coalition Campaign hosted a conference on anti-piracy measures.

One of the key speakers at the event was Gerard Lewis, Vice President of Internet provider Comcast, who informed participants about the upcoming copyright alerts system that will become active in three months.

The system will be managed by the Center for Copyright Information, and is the result of a voluntary agreement between copyright holders and all major ISPs that was signed last summer.

Under the agreement a third-party company will collect the IP-addresses of alleged infringers on BitTorrent and other public file-sharing networks. The ISPs will then notify these offenders and tell them that their behavior is unacceptable. After six warnings the ISP may then take a variety of repressive measures, which includes the option to cut off the offender’s connection temporarily.

In his talk Comcast’s Vice President explained that the “six-strikes” system is needed because the DMCA law doesn’t work well for P2P infringements. Instead, the copyright holders and ISPs needed a more flexible approach, which culminated in the copyright alerts system and a historic memorandum of understanding.

Lewis went on to emphasize that the deal safeguards the privacy of subscribers, as copyright holders don’t get the personal details of alleged pirates. The warnings are mostly educational, informative, and point people to sources where they can download content legally. Additionally, Lewis said it’s important that the repressive measures don’t disrupt vital services such as phone calls.

He further noted that while ISPs are now playing a valuable role, more anti-piracy work can be done with other parties. Payment processors and search engines could be around the table as well according to Comcast’s Vice President.

Overall, Lewis said that a flexible and voluntary agreement is a good model to follow, but that they are still learning as the system is being rolled out. The effectiveness of the copyright alerts system remains to be seen.

In France a three-strikes warning system is mandated by the Hadopi law, and at the conference Marie-Françoise Marais of the Hadopi office shared some new statistics. Since the law was implemented late 2010 a total of 970,000 warnings have been sent out. 88,600 alleged infringers received a second warning and 270 are on their third strike.

The last group risks a 1,500 euro fine and Internet disconnection of up to a month, should a judge agree.

Marais used the above statistics to argue that relatively few people continue downloading copyrighted material after being warned. But, she also noted that it doesn’t always work, as one person begged to download one more episode of the US TV-show “24.”

The impact of the US “six-strikes” version will become apparent in the months to come.

While Comcast and the other partners are confident that alerts are an effective and reasonable way to deter online piracy, others have their doubts. For one, the monitoring system is relatively easy to bypass through a proxy or VPN.

Secondly, the multi-million dollar plan only covers a few of the many sources of online piracy. The millions of U.S. Internet users who download via cyberlockers and streaming portals are not affected by this agreement at all, as these downloads are impossible for third parties to track legally.

How ‘reasonable’ the “six-strikes” system turns out to be largely depends on what punishments Internet providers intend to hand out. Needless to say, a temporary reduction in bandwidth is less severe than cutting people’s Internet access. More details on this are expected to come out in the near future.

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