What You Should Know about the New Six Strikes Policies

By Wesley Fenlon

American ISPs are getting ready to implement new anti-piracy policies, which could be bad news for your friendly neighborhood coffee shop.

You don't want to get to six strikes. That's the bottom line of the new "six strikes" anti-piracy policy being implemented in the United States, which will allow Internet Service Providers to warn their customers about copyright infringements. AT&T, TIme Warner, Verizon, Comcast and Cablevision will all be rolling out their six strike plans in the near future, but their implementations won't all be identical. If you don't pirate films, music, or other copyrighted materials, chances are you don't have anything to worry about. Unless, well, you're a big proponent of net neutrality, in which case you might take issue with how some ISPs will be handling repeat offenders.

Photo Credit: Flickr user carbonnyc via Creative Commons

The gist of the six strikes rule is simple: If the ISP detects you infringing on copyright, they send you an alert. In Verizon's plan, the first two alerts are lightweight. They provide a link to informatin about file sharing software and how to find it on your computer, in case you're torrenting the latest season of Game of Thrones accidentally. The third and fourth alerts redirect you to a webpage with information about copyright infringement, a video you can watch, and an acknowledgement button that means "yes, I understand."

After the fifth alert, they throttle you down to 256 kbps for 2-3 days. You can take the punishment immediately, delay it by a couple weeks, or ask for the American Arbitration Association to review the alerts. That last options costs $35, which you get back if you win the case. After the sixth alert, they don't actually do anything to you. Not directly.

According to TorrentFreak, "The user will receive no more alerts and can continue using his or her Internet connection at full speed. However – and this is not mentioned by Verizon – the MPAA and RIAA may obtain the IP-addresses of such repeat infringers in order to take legal action against them. While the ISPs will not voluntarily share the name and address linked to the IP-address, they can obtain a subpoena to demand this information from the provider."

Time Warner doesn't plan to throttle its customers, but may end up controlling where repeat offenders can browse on the Internet:

"Fernando Laguarda, Time Warner Cable’s Vice President of External Affairs, said his company will take a slightly different approach. The notification and acknowledgment phases are fairly similar, but instead of reducing connection speeds they will restrict users’ Internet browsing by directing them to a landing page. Laguarda did not explain in detail for how long users will be restricted or what websites they will be able to reach, if any."

AT&T has a similar plan:

"When repeated infringers try to access certain websites they will be redirected to an educational page. To lift the blockade, AT&T will require these customers to complete an“online education tutorial on copyright.”

But regular residential Internet users aren't the only ones who will be affected by the six strikes policy.

Verizon says businesses aren't immune to the rules, and that includes cafes like Starbucks that offer up Wi-Fi to their customers. Verizon's explanation? Those cafes shouldn't be sharing their connections, anyway.

Verizon's business terms of service state "You may not resell, re-provision or rent the Service to third parties (either for a fee or without charge) or allow third parties to use the Service via wired, wireless or other means. For example, you may not provide Internet access to third parties through a wired or wireless connection or use the Service to facilitate public Internet access (such as through a Wi-Fi hotspot)."

The six strikes system places an admirable emphasis on educating, rather than prosecuting, the public, but it also raises some concerns about ISPs controlling what websites you can and can't visit. Verizon's terms of services for businesses also ignore a universal use case and could stymie the proliferation of free Wi-Fi access in public places. Then again, these are policies, not laws--we'll have to wait and see how much of an effect they actually have on home and business Internet usage in the United States.