Copyright Alert plan has sheriff

Exec director, advisory board selected to help launch new system

Moving forward on implementing the Copyright Alerts that consumers will soon receive when they download infringing content, showbiz and Internet service providers have selected an executive director and advisory board to help launch the new system.

The alerts, expected to launch this year, are seen as a way to curb piracy, based on the notion that many consumers are unaware that they are downloading infringing content and will cease doing so once made aware of it by their Internet service provider.

Jill Lesser, who has worked as managing director at Glover Park Group, has been named exec director of the Center for Copyright Information, the org formed to oversee the new system and launch a public education effort on the importance of copyright in a digital era. Lesser has also worked as senior VP for domestic public policy at AOL Time Warner and deputy director of public policy and director of the civic media project at People for the American Way.

Under a voluntary agreement between studios, record labels and major ISPs, consumers will get warning messages when they access pirated movies, TV shows and music; if they do not respond to repeated alerts and continue to download infringing material, they could see their service slowed or suffer other sanctions.

Content owners will notify Internet service providers of IP addresses that are accessing infringing content, and the ISP will then send an alert to that subscriber. If users continue to access the content, they will continue to get notices. Only upon the fifth notice could they face the slowing of their Internet speed by their ISP or some other type of “mitigation measure.” Consumers will be able to challenge the notices and measures through an independent review board administered by the American Arbitration Assn.

When the agreement for Copyright Alerts was announced, the ISPs, studios and record labels stressed that the “mitigation measures” would not include cutting off consumers’ service.

The ISPs taking part in the Copyright Alerts include AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. The system is aimed at peer-to-peer file sharing but not yet illegal streaming.

One challenge will be explaining the Copyright Alerts to consumers, a task that may be all the more difficult following the online protest that sidelined an effort to pass stricter anti-piracy legislation, including the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. Unlike those efforts, the Copyright Alerts system grows out of a private agreement hashed out last summer when the studios, record labels and ISPs came to terms on a plan.

Some of the consumer groups that opposed SOPA expressed support, however guarded, for the Copyright Alerts.

Among those on the advisory board of the Center for Copyright Information is Gigi Sohn, co-founder of Public Knowledge, who said that joining the board was not an “easy decision.” “I did so because I saw the need to be an advocate for the rights of Internet users and to provide transparency,” she said in a statement, adding that one of her concerns is that none of the provisions of the Copyright Alert systems be interpreted as a means to suspend Internet accounts. But she said that it could prove to be a “net positive” as an alternative to government intervention and litigation.

Also on the advisory board will be Jerry Berman, chairman of the Internet Education Foundation and founder of the Center for Democracy and Technology; Marsali Hancock, president of iKeepSafe.org; and Jules Polenetsky, director and co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum.

The executive board includes chairman Thomas Dailey, VP and deputy general counsel of Verizon; vice chairman Steven Marks, general counsel of the RIAA; Marianne Grant, senior VP of the MPAA; Alan Lewine, senior counsel of Comcast; Daniel Mandil, associate general counsel of Viacom; and Brent Olson, VP of public policy at AT&T.

In an interview, Lesser acknowledged that the debate over SOPA “has definitely clouded the environment” when it comes to anti-piracy initiatives, but she hopes the “dust will settle” by the time it is launched. No date has been set, but she expects it will come shortly after the one-year anniversary of its announcement in July 2011.

An educational component will focus on “helping consumers to do right rather than focusing on what they are doing wrong,” she said. That will include guidance on how to use digital materials in a “legal, easily accessible way.”