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Updated 9/16 with clarifications via AT&T, and a correction.

If you’re an AT&T Internet customer and the company believes you have been violating copyright law, the company could cut off your Internet access.

That’s the fine print buried in a letter sent by AT&T to suspected copyright infringers, which TorrentFreak obtained and published recently. The key paragraph reads as follows:

Through the Copyright Alert Program, users are given an opportunity to understand and change behavior that may be resulting in Copyright Alerts. However, if they receive multiple Copyright Alerts, they may encounter corrective action — or mitigation measures — which may limit or inhibit Internet access.

According to the “six strikes” scheme adopted by many U.S. Internet service providers, suspected infringers will get up to six notifications before the ISPs take corrective action. Until recently, however, the scheme was rather vague about what that corrective action might entail.

Comcast revealed in February that it would start placing an annoying popup notification in users’ browsers if they failed to comply with its copyright infringement warnings.

Now, apparently, AT&T may limit or “inhibit” Internet access under similar conditions.

Update: An AT&T representative explains that cutting off or slowing down Internet access is not one of the provisions of the company’s new “Copyright Alert System” — but that it might one of the outcomes if the alleged copyright violation leads to a DMCA violation, which requires all ISPs to terminate the access for “repeat offenders.”

The letter published by TorrentFreak is quite polite and non-threatening in tone, but masks some disturbing ambiguities. It states that the letter is being sent at the request of a copyright owner, which has identified a suspected copyright infringement at the recipient’s IP address. It does not appear to say who the owner is or what the infringing content might be. Correction: I didn’t read closely enough; it does appear to list this info, but it’s redacted in TorrentFreak’s post.

AT&T’s letter says that the recipient’s name and identifying information has not been released to anyone, “except as required by a lawful request for records,” a useful hedge that means that your name quite possibly has been released to someone.

AT&T assures the person reading this that they have not taken any action to date, and that “we’ll let you know when mitigation measures are pending, should any be necessary.” At that point, it helpfully states that you may request an “Independent Review” and reminds you to hang on to any documentation that might help you prove that your use of the content in question was non-infringing.

In case the reader is completely clueless about the use of P2P software such as BitTorrent, the letter directs them to a media industry website on copyright for more information.


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