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Producers’ Coalition Says Copyright Alert System Has Failed to Stop Piracy

A newly formed coalition of small and independent producers — including Millennium Films, Voltage Pictures and FilmNation Entertainment — is taking aim at one of the signature anti-piracy initiatives of Hollywood studios and Internet service providers, characterizing it as ineffective.

A system of copyright alerts was launched in 2013, in which studios and record labels send notices to major Internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T if they spot infringing content being shared over peer-to-peer networks. The ISP then sends that notice on to their customer. If a user continues to access the content, they will receive more notices. After the fifth or sixth notice, they are subject to “mitigation measures” such as having their service downgraded or slowed.

The Copyright Alert System, as it is called, is based on the idea that most consumers will stop accessing infringing content after receiving one or two notices, with many users unaware that they are even trying to view or listen to pirated titles.

But the Internet Security Task Force, a coalition of smaller producers launched last month, contends that the copyright alerts are not only ineffective but actually make matters worse. They suggest that the program is too lenient to those who consume pirated content.

Mark Gill, president of Millennium Films, said in a statement that their movie “Expendables 3” — which was pirated even before its release in August — was illegally viewed more than 60 million times but the copyright alert system “allowed 0.3% of our infringement notices through to their customers.”

“The other 99.7% of the time, the notices went in the trash,” he said.

Avi Lerner, chairman of Millennium Films, has blamed the piracy of “Expendables 3” on its lower box office returns compared to its two predecessor titles. The studio said a copy of the movie was stolen and uploaded to the Internet three weeks before its release.

According to the group, the data on “Expendables 3” was from the period of September to November 2014 and collected by CEG-TEK Intl., an Internet security firm.

Other ISPs participating in the program include Time Warner Cable and Cablevision.

Gill challenged the copyright alerts because he says it allows “people to steal six movies from us before they get an educational leaflet.”

The ISPs have leeway in which type of mitigation measures they choose to take for repeat infringers. One of the possible measures directed at repeat infringers is that they will not be able to access the Internet until they complete an educational course.

A spokeswoman for the Center for Copyright Information, the group set up to implement the copyright alerts, said of the system, “The first truly voluntary, multi-stakeholder program and Internet and external research about the [Copyright Alert System] has illustrated that a program focused on consumer engagement and education and providing people with tools to find the content they love, can work. It has also shown that voluntary multi-stakeholder solutions can help tackle some of the most challenging technological policy issues.” She added that CCI “believes the program is working as intended and that further analysis will illustrate the program’s effectiveness.”

The CCI issued a progress report about a year ago.

The Internet Security Task Force contends that two Internet providers that are not part of CCI, Charter Communications and Cox Communications, forwarded notices to customers accessing “Expendables 3” and saw a 25.47% decrease in infringements. ISPs participating in the copyright alerts, however, actually saw an increase in infringement in that title.

The task force contends that a better solution is in Canada, where recently enacted legislation compels ISPs to forward a copyright holders’ notices to their customers. According to CEG TEK, clients in Canada have seen piracy of their content drop substantially since the law was enacted.

Nevertheless, in the United States studios and labels have been pursuing voluntary agreements rather than legislation given the political realities in Washington. In 2012, anti-piracy legislation known as the Stop Online Piracy Act was sidelined after a storm of protest from Internet companies and users. The unprecedented outcry — including millions of messages sent to lawmakers — was that the legislation was too restrictive.

As Voltage Pictures did with “Hurt Locker,” Millennium Films has sought to sue individuals who engaged in file sharing of “Expendables 3,” a cumbersome legal process that has been abandoned by the Recording Industry Assn. of America and is not being pursued by the MPAA.

Last month, an unidentified 26-year-old man was arrested by London police in connection with leaking the movie. Two others were arrested last year.

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