Comcast Developing Anti-Piracy Alternative to ‘Six Strikes’ (Exclusive)

Internet Piracy

Cable operator pitching TV industry on plan to convert illegal downloads to legal transaction opportunities

Comcast Corp. is developing a new approach to fighting piracy in the U.S., and wants other major content companies and distributors on board.

The owner of the nation’s largest cable operator has begun preliminary discussions with both film and TV studios and other leading Internet service providers about employing technology, according to sources, that would provide offending users with transactional opportunities to access legal versions of copyright-infringing videos as they’re being downloaded.

A spokeswoman for Comcast declined comment.

Comcast is said to be keen on getting content owners and ISPs from outside the conglomerate to join the effort, even for a beta trial that would be concentrated to a limited selection of programs and Internet subscribers. No timetable has been set, however.

As sources described the new system, a consumer illegally downloading a film or movie from a peer-to-peer system  would be quickly pushed a pop-up message with links to purchase or rent the same content, whether the title in question exists on the VOD library of a participating distributor’s own broadband network or on a third-party seller like Amazon.

The new approach would be an alternative to the Copyright Alert System, a voluntary initiative many leading programmers and distributors like Comcast have been utilizing since February. Other CAS participants include AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision, as well as all studios affiliated with MPAA.

Also informally known as the “six strikes” initiative, CAS issues warnings to subscribers engaging in copyright infringement as many as six times before the ISP can actively impede their bandwidth.

While Comcast is among the prominent distributors and programmers who participate in CAS as a member of Center for Copyright Information, this new system is not a CCI initiative. That said, CCI has been notified of Comcast’s interests and could eventually step in to become part of its implementation.

While sources familiar with the new initiative emphasized that it is being seen as a complement to CAS and not a replacement, the very emergence of an alternative raises questions as to the viability of CAS, which has been criticized for myriad reasons ranging from the questionable strategic rationale of punishing subscribers to an implementation that has been characterized as scattershot. How the two systems would coexist is unclear.

But the Obama Administration has been supportive of CAS. Earlier this year, White House-appointed copyright czar Victoria Espinel singled out the initiative as a positive step toward copyright enforcement that didn’t require government intervention.

Just last week, France moved to downscale Hadopi, a system similar to CAS, the first of its kind worldwide. After three years of implementation and heavy criticism, Hadopi will now fine offending subscribers instead of blocking Internet access after repeated warnings.

Using pirated content as a platform to drive legal transactions reflects an alternate philosophy regarding copyright infringement, one that sees the illegal activity less as a crime that requires punishment and more as lead generation to a consumer whose behavior is borne out of inadequate legitimate digital content options.

CAS and the new approach share a basic framework in that the ISP role is largely automated, notifying offending users based on information derived from the content companies who have a third party pulling the IP addresses of those downloading copyright-infringing material.

But there are a few crucial differences: With the new conversion strategy, the notification would occur in real time. Though not instantaneous, it would be a good deal faster than CAS, which sends subscribers e-mails, voicemails or browser-based messages that can occur weeks after the alleged piracy takes place.

Comcast is also hoping the new approach has a more educational impact than CAS, which sources indicate has provided Comcast with subscriber feedback suggesting it is ineffective in that respect. Encouraging legal transactions could also be a better tack to take with the segment of consumers unknowingly pirating from illegal websites with design interfaces so slick they confuse users into thinking they are legitimate sources for content.

The CAS website, to which alerts link back to, has a section that lists various legal digital content options but that information is neither delivered in real time nor is it targeted on a title-by-title basis.

Under the new plan, ISPs wouldn’t get a cut of revenue derived from the transactions they drive to legal third-party sites, a referral arrangement fairly typical on the Internet.

While that may keep Comcast from deriving incremental economic benefit, the new system would still help combat congestion on its broadband network and help drive usage to Xfinity, the MSO’s vast collection of VOD titles available on digital platforms.

Comcast has nearly 40% share of the broadband market among cable operators, totaling approximately 20 million subscribers.

While Comcast knows the solution is feasible, the company’s engineers haven’t formally begun work on it. The project is being worked on in tandem with engineers at NBC Universal, the content side of the conglomerate.

The notion of turning piracy into opportunity isn’t entirely new. Verance Corp., for instance, is out shopping a new version of the Cinavia software that would provide a similar capability to piracy-blocking on Blu-ray disc players.

Comcast comes to the piracy problem with a vested interest in more ways than one. In addition to being one of the leading providers of broadband Internet in the U.S., the company also owns a movie studio, Universal Pictures, and myriad broadcast and cable TV channels from NBC to E!. Programmers have long complained that the value of their content has been undermined by copyright infringement.

A strategic shift from Comcast isn’t merely some isolated, unilateral action. On an issue like piracy that counts on collaborative effort across industries, the action taken by the biggest player at the table tends to be an influential move. What’s more, the company is openly courting other companies to get involved in the experiment.

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  1. imaginethinkdo says:

    It still amazes me at the willingness to call it piracy .. if you were to take a film you purchased to a friends house and he/she invited a few friends to watch it as well .. and afterwards someone asked to borrow that film .. is that infringement or sharing! the same applies online it’s just a different medium … there is no such thing a piracy just being human and social it is the world wide web .. this is the new war on drugs.

    • the difference between sharing and piracy is in your own words “take a film you PURCHASED” and shared with a few friends. Entirely different from buying and selling unlimited numbers of illegally copied versions of copyrighted material.

    • Eric Marr says:

      Its not piracy no it is copying so it is theft when you bypass the security they put in. This comes from a guy that downloads. So I am not sure why you think its fine to do this no matter what the ethics behind illegal downloads is still on the bad side.

      You know when you were a kid and would strap to VHS together and copy a movie for a friend that was still theft. No where does it say that you still can not share an original copy of something with someone else just that you can not keep a copy for yourself also.

      Common sense grab some.

  2. Joe says:

    Comcast is being working on fighting Piracy through their Premium Services like Xfinity Video On Demand that offers the consumers to buy at a really low price movies without having to go out of your Home, now some services like Netflix have contributed also for the consumers to pay a monthly fee for watching movies online, I think there should be a control on piracy but not a control on everything we do. Thank you!

  3. Sinizter says:

    Being a content provider NBC /Universal and ISP makes it very hard to believe anything they say ,call it the clapper effect as for this >>>..Do you think this pop-up program would effectively help prevent content piracy? i think it’s spyware and it may stop some people from “sharing” their purchased property, but as a whole i think not also think an adblocker would block it as soon as it shows its face .. makes me wonder if this breaches Net Neutrality probably so

  4. travelsonic says:

    This circus is gettin way o of hand.

    From the RIAA, MPAA, etc pretty much buying intrusive laws and granting themselves all sorts of powers to do things that, from a technical standpoint are actually pretty dicey in their effectiveness [on top of hindering, IMO of course, creative outlets, technological outlets, and to some extent harms the limits fair use of other works], to these ISPs trying their own dicey maneuvers.

    When will our govt. get their heads out of the sand, and see that as much as piracy is something that needs to be reigned in, these companies have gotten out of hand?

  5. I’ve read some excellent stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how a lot attempt you place to make any such fantastic informative website.

  6. Antron says:

    oh, Comcast…like the rest of the content providers, you just don’t get it. People will gladly pay reasonable prices for digital content IF they can get what they want, when they want it. What the torrent sites offer is one-stop shopping. Match that with $1.99 pricing and recognize that you can compete if you can match what the torrent sites offer.
    Otherwise, it’a a losing battle. The Oatmeal strip in the other posting summarizes it nicely. Wake up, or die like a dinosaur…its your choice.

  7. I just have 3 words for Comcast. V. P. N.

  8. I believe these initiatives to be outside the legal definitions of “private use.” In fact, Time Warner pops up their “Illegal Download” on all recording devices other then devices they supply. For my particular DVD recorder it has the same effect as Macrovision and stops me from time-shifting any program using my own device. This, in fact, diminishes the “private use” exception in the law to Time Warner subscribers. This overkill answer is no answer at all, and the idea that corporate interests can trample on subscribers’ or anyone’s legal rights should always be abhorrent to citizens of this republic.

  9. Doug Wheeler - @DougWheeler says:

    I don’t know how they’re planning on “pushing a pop-up” when most piracy occurs over protocols that don’t display server-defined content. This may be possible on “The Web,” but most piracy is done using protocols like BitTorrent or NNTP, not HTTP (a.k.a., “The Web”).

  10. This is a brilliant idea in theory, but since most content people want to pirate is not available for sale (at any price) at the moment they want it, I don’t see how this will work.

    I refer you to the simplist (and most hilarious) illustration of this problem by The Oatmeal. Nobody has ever explained it better.

  11. Mysterio2 says:

    How is this supposed to work without deep packet inspection or some other similarly intrusive spyware technology?

    I do not download anything without authorization, but if this is implemented I’m going to start tunnelling out of my home network to get to the internet.

    I suspect it’s time to start buying VPN stock.

  12. We are committed to the Copyright Alert System and believe it is an effective umbrella approach to address piracy, but we’re open to looking at a variety of ways to address piracy. So far, customers seem to be receptive to this approach. As a member of the board of CCI, we continue to support the mission of CCI. Should we decide to go forward with this program, we view it as complementary.

    • “customers seem to be receptive to this approach”

      How about doing the job I pay you for? Providing internet service. I’ve got the NSA and the federal government already pay to much to spy on me.

      I’m a customer. Consider me ‘hostile’ to this approach. I’ll do anything and everything to foil your attempts because I don’t trust you to do this correctly or effectively. I trust you to do everything in your power to squeeze money out of people in anyway you can. Today I get ‘illegal content’ on some site your desk jockeys flagged incorrectly. Tomorrow I get redirects from Netflix to Xfinity.

      DO NOT WANT. If I break the law…prosecute. Until I break the law, get out. Give me one chance Comcast, and I’ll drop you like a hat. Remember me. I am legion.

  13. usfilmjobs says:

    Its interesting that Comcast is doing this now they are the content creator as well as the provider. They never lifted a finger before they bought Universal to help out the film industry and all the people who have lost their jobs to piracy.

    • Sinizter says:

      I haven’t seen 1 speck of proof showing any job losses that are credible ..due to content sharing . tech has hindered the market in hollywood thx to cgi you dont see sfx/stuntmen quite like you used to the writers strike poof there go more jobs out the window, here have a look at this and tell me if you see any significant losses … other than people being poorer over the last 15 or so years

  14. Inevitable. Look, regarding privacy, clearly the information on all of our activities is available everywhere. When it’s Oscar time and the screeners are leaked, guess who the offenders are? It’s the content makers themselves, so there’s no point in worrying “who” exactly uploaded it, after all, it’s promotional material is it not? What has to happen and this is a good step in that direction is essentially striking while the iron is hot, due to the fact that there’s a plethora of ancillary titles (think of DVD extras for the movie the interested party is the process of being “lent”, and by lent I mean, it’s a promo only disc not for resale that happens to be called a torrent file that has a watermark that sez For Your Consideration, a friend of a friend of a friend knows the daughter of “” who is the “” at “” and it…got digitized) This would be the ideal time to present legit “warez” as exhibited in this link Provide room service for the troglodytes, hunters like to sleep in and there are plenty of ‘left overs’ Incentivization, is the profit centre, not litigation. Last insight you don’t have time for. Trent Reznor. He gave away the 2006 album Ghosts I-IV (consisting entirely of instrumental music, in any format it was available digitally) if you go to TechDirt you’ll find the story of how he sold out of $300 version in 30 hours making $750,000. He created incalculable good will with his fans, the free aspect created new ones. And then….in a nice twist of win/win, he happens to win an Oscar for best soundtrack to a movie about a social network, that originally in the script had 80s college tunes in it, he replaced it with his own score of, instrumental music that is clearly rooted and maybe in some cases from, the same sessions of the example.

    Recap: this is a good idea, if either side takes advantage of it and it breaks, it’s a wasted opportunity, Netflix, the strategy is in the title, the ubiquity is in the pricing, profit by a thousand unique offers from this point forward. Take away term not used to be paid special attention to: structural analysis, which it seems for the first time is being used by those who need it now more than ever

  15. CA says:

    In order to do this, Comcast would need to inspect every piece of traffic going over their network and determine what it is. Didn’t these idiots learn anything from how ape people went over the NSA revelations? In any case, encryption renders all of this moot.

  16. Does this mean Comcast intends on forcing every studio in the world to release all their movies for sale via digital format the day they hit the torrents? So I don’t have to subscribe to HBO, I’ll just have to try and pirate the latest episode of Newsroom and then I can buy it? Because you know, I CAN’T BUY IT NOW.

    Most stolen content is brand new, or not easily accessible. In other words, the movie is still in theaters, the episode is only available in the US or the series can only be watched on Netflix (HBO SHO, etc).

    One of the hardest things to accomplish in digital media is mitigating piracy. The hardest thing to accomplish is dealing with licensing and content business models. Comcast, please don’t invest too much money here and instead buy bigger pipes.

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