For roughly two decades, copyright holders have been sending ISPs takedown notices to alert account holders that their connections are being used to share copyrighted material.
These notices are traditionally nothing more than a warning, hoping to scare file-sharers into giving up their habit. In recent years, this has slowly changed.
In the past, AT&T and other ISPs said that they would never terminate accounts of customers without a court order, arguing that only a court can decide what constitutes a repeat infringement.
However, after rightsholders filed several high profile lawsuits against ISPs, many companies have revised their policies. This also appears to be the case at AT&T, which reportedly plans to terminate its first customers over piracy allegations.
The ISP, which is the third-largest broadband provider in the US, plans to terminate over a dozen persistent ‘pirates’ next week, Axios reports.
The customers in question have received repeated warnings for pirating through P2P networks, usually BitTorrent. AT&T states that it reached out to educate them about copyright infringement and prevent the issue from reoccurring, apparently without result.
“A small number of customers who continue to receive additional copyright infringement notifications from content owners despite our efforts to educate them, will have their service discontinued,” an AT&T spokesperson said, commenting on the news.
AT&T is by no means the only ISP that terminates persistent pirates, but it’s a noteworthy step since the company is no longer convinced that a court order is required to do so.
This lack of clarity is, in part, due to the language in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that deals with takedown notices.
The DMCA requires ISPs to “… adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of subscribers and account holders of the service provider’s system or network who are repeat infringers.”
The term “repeat infringer” is open to interpretation. Are these infringers by a court’s standards, or merely based on allegations from copyright holders?
Where AT&T previously said that a court order was needed, it will now terminate customers based on allegations from copyright holders.
There is little doubt that many of the repeatedly flagged subscribers have a ‘pirate’ in their household. That said, without a proper judicial review of the evidence, there’s more room for error.
AT&T and several other ISPs previously took part in the Copyright Alert System. Together with the MPAA and RIAA, they agreed to send warning notices to alleged pirates, escalating repeat infringers through a series of “mitigation” measures.
Ironically, this scheme didn’t require any of the ISPs to terminate any subscribers, although AT&T threatened to do so.
Update: there’s an unconfirmed image floating around on Imgur that shows what AT&T’s warnings may look like.