Americans who illegally download songs and movies may soon be in for a surprise: They will be warned to stop, and if they don’t, they could find their Internet access slowing to a crawl.
After years of negotiations with Hollywood and the music industry, top Internet providers have agreed to a systematic approach to identify customers suspected of digital copyright infringement and then alerting them via e-mail or other means.
Under the new process, which was announced on Thursday, several warnings would be issued, with progressively harsher consequences if the initial cautions were ignored.
The companies took pains to say that the agreement did not oblige Internet providers to shut down a repeat offender’s account, and that the system of alerts was meant to be “educational.” But they noted that carriers would retain their right to cut off any user who violated their terms of service.
In bringing together the media companies and Internet carriers, the deal demonstrates how the once-clear line separating those two businesses has been blurred. Eight years ago, the Recording Industry Association of America had to sue Verizon to try to uncover the identity of a customer who was sharing music online. This year, Comcast completed its merger with NBC, bringing an owner of digital content and a conduit for it under the same roof.
The system involves six warnings that an Internet provider can send to a customer whom media firms have identified as a possible copyright infringer.
The warnings escalate from simple email notifications to, at levels 5 and 6, a set of “mitigation measures,” such as reduced connection speeds or a block on Web browsing. As the alerts progress, a customer must acknowledge that he understands the notice. Customers will also have the opportunity to contest the complaint.
The effect on consumers, the companies hope, will be more of a deterrent-by-annoyance — rather than the random lightning bolt of litigation.