pirateA group of major Internet service providers on Thursday declared they would take a larger role in fighting against the piracy of movies, music, and television shows. The ISPs include AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision.

Major music labels and Hollywood have been concerned about digital piracy since the days of Napster. These companies have made a concerted effort to put restrictions on digital content, but it hasn’t stopped the masses from using BitTorrent or other file sharing programs to share content. So the move to have the biggest ISPs act as a unified first line of defense is significant.

The ISPs have agreed to send up to six electronic alerts to customers that download media illegally. Those customers who receive alerts will likely have their Internet access restricted or suspended until they discuss the violation with the ISP. There will also be an independent review process that intends to determine whether an account was identified incorrectly or whether a download was actually lawful.

The new program supposedly intends to educate customers rather than punish them, according to Verizon Executive VP and General Counsel Randal Milch.

“We hope that effort – designed to notify and educate customers, not to penalize them – will set a reasonable standard for both copyright owners and ISPs to follow, while informing customers about copyright laws and encouraging them to get content from the many legal sources that exist,” Milch said in a statement.

The program, not surprisingly, is backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, all organizations that have taken a hard line against copying and filesharing. Maybe even more important is that the U.S. government is behind the program.

Victoria Espinel, U.S. Intellectual Enforcement Coordinator, wrote today on the White House Blog:

The Administration is committed to reducing infringement of American intellectual property as part of our ongoing commitment to support jobs, increase exports and maintain our global competitiveness. The joining of Internet service providers and entertainment companies in a cooperative effort to combat online infringement can further this goal and we commend them for reaching this agreement. We believe it will have a significant impact on reducing online piracy.

What do you think about this new program? Do you support the ISPs or think they are invading your privacy?

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