Mediacom, one of the larger Internet providers in the United States, has not joined the controversial six-strikes anti-piracy scheme set to start later this year. But that doesn’t mean Mediacom customers can pirate without consequences, on the contrary. The Internet provider rigorously terminates the Internet access of subscribers who receive two DMCA notifications and after a third notice customers are permanently disconnected and banned for life.
For nearly a decade copyright holders have been sending DMCA takedown notices to Internet providers.
Some ISPs choose to ignore these letters, and others simply forward them to the appropriate subscriber and then that’s that. At least, for most Internet providers.
Mediacom has a unique interpretation of their perceived obligations under the DMCA and they include cracking down on those who are accused of sharing files. Effectively, Mediacom has adopted the most rigorous three-strikes policy that we’ve ever encountered.
It works as follows.
Strike 1: After the first DMCA notice the account is flagged and the subscriber receives a letter informing him or her about the alleged violation.
Strike 2: The second DMCA notice is more serious and results in an account suspension. Internet access can only be reinstated if the subscriber fills out some paperwork.
Strike 3: After the third DMCA notice it is game over for the subscriber. The account holder in question will lose Internet access and he or she is banned for life.
Customers who argue that someone else must have used their connection to share infringing material will also lose their Internet access. Mediacom argues that the account holder is responsible for whoever uses the connection, without exceptions. In some cases the the ISP adds to the injury by charging an early termination fee.
Mediacom’s three-strikes policy goes much further than the upcoming six-strikes anti-piracy scheme in which permanent disconnections are a no-go. Needless to say it raises eyebrows at digital rights groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who heavily criticize Mediacom’s termination policy.
“Given the importance of connectivity these days, it’s extremely unfortunate that any ISP would terminate after three DMCA notices,” EFF’s Corynne McSherry told TorentFreak.
“DMCA notices are merely accusations — they are not proof of wrongdoing, and ISPs should not treat them as such. Where possible, I would urge customers of any ISP that has a strict three-strikes policy to vote with their feet and find an ISP that puts its customers first,” she adds.
Subscribers should indeed move away from ISPs that ignore their rights, but the real problem is that customers don’t always have a choice. Those who live in an area where Mediacom is the only provider are in serious trouble.
In all fairness, Mediacom does give subscribers the chance to dispute allegations of copyright infringement. However, Mediacom’s description of the counterclaim process is rather negative and is likely to scare the average subscriber.
“Once this [counter notification] paperwork is returned, Mediacom turns it over to the copyright holder, who pursues action as they choose. This may include legal action such as lawsuits between the copyright holder and the customer,” Mediacom explains.
The prospect of getting involved in a legal battle with Hollywood or the major music labels is not really encouraging, to say the least. Even those who know that the evidence used for DMCA notices is often shoddy and inaccurate will probably hesitate to file a counterclaim.
It’s clear that Mediacom’s policy favors copyright holders over consumers. This is worrisome, not least because the United Nations declared Internet access a human right last year, something President Obama seems to agree on.
Human right or not, for now that’s not going to do much for all those former Mediacom customers who are banned from using the Internet for life.