The major ISPs in the U.S. have voluntarily joined the Copyright Alert System which essentially turns them into cops tracking and punishing users who infringe on copyrights.
Big-name ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cablevision, and Time Warner Cable have all signed on the dotted line to a system that codifies what has been in place for a while now. Copyright owners can contact an ISP to notify them that one of their customers is infringing on the sanctity of their content, at which point the ISP will start proceedings.
This is a six strikes and you’re possibly out kind of deal. The first four steps involve the ISP sending an email to the user suspected of copyright infringement, with the final two being where this all gets a little underhanded and 1984-style Big Brother-esque.
There has been a similar system in place to this for years, but the big difference now is what happens if the warnings are ignored. Previously the ISPs made no promise to act if the people accused of illegal activity refused to heed the warnings, whereas now they will implement tougher action known as mitigation measures.
These mitigation measures have been “reasonably calculated to stop future content theft,” and include slowing down the user’s broadband speed or sending them to a Web page that insists they call the ISP to discuss matters. If these don’t do the trick then the ISP can cut the service off entirely, either on their own accord or at the behest of the copyright owner.
Many countries have a similar system in place now, but very ISPs are actually taking it all the way to disconnecting their customers from the Internet completely. And who can blame them as that’s only costing them money in the long run. There is also an argument, discussed on GigaOM, that with Internet access increasingly considered a human right, these measures could be considered draconian.
Interestingly only the downloading of copyrighted material is covered by the Copyright Alert System, so I guess you can continue to stream whatever you want to your heart’s content without worrying. Which is nice to know.