Can You Really Get Kicked Off the Internet?

Category: File-Sharing

After several years of negotiations and rumors, the music and film lobbyists have finally reached an agreement with Internet service providers to crack down on copyright violators. Effective March 1st 2013, the so-called 'six strikes program' went into effect. What is it, and what does it mean to you?

Six Strikes and You're Out of the Internet?

Let's step back for just a second and lay some ground work. Who are these "music and film lobbyists" and why are they so upset about "copyright violators"? Very simply, it's all about the illegal downloading of music and movies. If you download a popular song or movie without paying for it, you're breaking the law.

And because that activity deprives the studios and artists who created that entertainment the fruits of their labor, the music and film industries have created lobbying groups such as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) to fight back against internet piracy and copyright violations. In legal terms, these groups are called the rights holders.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) requires ISPs to take action against suspected copyright violators when they receive complaints from rights holders; otherwise, an ISP can be held liable for contributory infringement. The six-strikes program formalizes the action that will be taken against suspects. Here is how it will work:
Kicked Out of the Internet?

Upon the first complaint, the ISP will send a notice to the customer informing him that allegedly infringing activity has been traced to his account, and suggesting ways to prevent future infringement. If the activity continues, further complaints will result in warnings of an increasingly intrusive nature. For example, your Web browser may be redirected to a warning page that won’t go away for a period of time, or you may be forced to acknowledge that you have violated copyright. After five strikes, things get serious.

Repeat offenders are subject to “mitigation measures” that may include throttling bandwidth down to dialup speeds for two or three days, or requiring you to call a mitigation specialist to discuss the matter before the throttling is lifted. Access to popular Web sites may be blocked until you take an online education course.

Six Strikes... and Then What?

But what happens after the sixth and, presumably, final strike? No one really knows, at this point. The agreement between rights holders and ISPs says that mitigation measures may include termination of Internet service. But the signatory ISPs have all announced that they don’t plan to terminate anyone. It certainly isn’t in their interests to cut off their own revenue streams. In all likelihood, ISPs will continue to do what they do now: respond to court orders for customer info and let the music industry sue the infringers if they wish.

If you wish to contest a strike, it will cost you a $35 arbitration fee. That fee will be refunded if the arbitration goes in your favor.

The goal of this program is to educate, not litigate, according to the rights holders. The escalating warnings and mitigation measures are designed to get infringers to come to class, pay attention, and do something to stop the copyright violations that allegedly occur through their accounts.

Rumors Abound...

Some false rumors are flying about the six-strikes program; here is the truth about some of them:

  • "It's the law!" -- The six-strikes rule is not a law; it doesn’t change any penalties in the DMCA. It’s just a private agreement between rights holders and ISPs. Of course, downloading copyrighted music and movies without paying is illegal. But that's different from the "six strikes" agreement.
  • "We'll be watching you!" -- ISPs are not going to monitor all of your Internet activity. They will continue to simply respond to complaints from rights holders. The rights holders, in turn, are monitoring only peer-to-peer file sharing networks at this time. Furthermore, they concentrate on monitoring only their most recent, valuable intellectual properties, not years-old movies and music that hardly anyone buys anymore.
  • "They'll turn you in!" -- ISPs will not be obliged to turn over customer records to rights holders under this agreement. A court order is still required.
  • "You'll be blacklisted!" -- There is no permanent blacklist of infringing customers. After 12 months of no infringement complaints, a customer’s record is wiped clean.

Which ISPs are Involved?

Only five major ISPs are signatories to the six-strikes agreement; they are Comcast, Time-Warner, Verizon, Cablevision, and AT&T. But “six strikes” may apply to you even if you don’t subscribe to one of these ISPs. Most second-tier ISPs get their upstream connections from one or more of the majors. An infringement complaint will be passed from a major ISP to yours, and they will pass it on to you.

Your ISP may have a different, even more drastic policy; they don’t want to lose their business-critical upstream connection over one customer’s piracy. Cox Communications is known to terminate service after three strikes.

The six-strikes program is administered by the Center for Copyright Information, an arm of the RIAA and MPAA. You can learn more about the program there, but bear in mind the biased nature of the source.

The six-strikes program should not concern anyone who does the following:

Avoid peer-to-peer networks, file sharing, and other illegal sources for obtaining music or movies. You can listen to free music all day long on services such as Pandora, Slacker, and Spotify. (See Five Web Radio Services You'll Love.) If there's a song you must have right now, you can legally purchase it for a buck or so. Likewise there are many sources for free movies online. See my article How To Get Free Movies Online - Legally

You'll also need to take a few simple steps to secure your network against unauthorized users. See my article, Is Your Wireless Router REALLY Secure? and make sure no one can use your Internet connection to engage in activities for which you could be blamed.

Do you have something to say about this topic? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Can You Really Get Kicked Off the Internet?"

Posted by:

04 Mar 2013

What about YouTube? I know that there are some full-length movies, etc., on there. OK or not OK to view? How to tell?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Youtube polices the site pretty well, and has automated tools to find copyrighted content. You needn't be concerned about this issue and Youtube. (Watching too many cat videos, though, could cause other problems.)

Posted by:

04 Mar 2013

I assume that this 'agreement' applies only to the USA?

In the UK they are still waffling on about a THREE strike rule......

To me it boils down to a $35 fine (called arbitration payment) if you don't admit theft (which then presumably you can be prosecuted for in Criminal Court and sued for damages in Civil Court having admitted the offense to avoid a $35 payment)...... sounds like a win/win situation for the Rights holders?

Europe is somewhat different Scandinavians are using 1000/1000 connections for gawd knows what and have been for ages. France has demonstrated that it will do anything to 'prove' it isn't America's pet poodle..... anyone remember Yahoo and Nazi memorabilia????

We have an elderly aunt in California who is worried silly about her connection being used by 'criminals'..... I am sure that the average teenage downloader uses secure connections and everything else that we see bandied about on the 'net.

A few years ago the BBC website had an article on peer to peer with links to pirate bay and a few other sites. This included an explanation of how peer to peer works.

It's a weird situation when copyright owners can make me sit through ages of idiotic adverts for stuff I have no interest in on DVDs I have paid good money for and then have the cheek to complain that they are being stolen from - isn't stealing my time still theft?

Perhaps reducing the cost of DVDs to the equivalent of what is charged in eastern Europe would go a long way to stopping people stealing.

At least I haven't seen any of the totally fictitious claims of downloading funding terrorism recently - I just couldn't work out how getting something without paying for it funded terrorists.

There is a somewhat simple answer to falling sales - reduce prices to a level that the market will bear. That used to be retail 101.

Just in case this thread is being monitored I hasten to add that I do not use peer to peer now. In the past I have used BBC iplayer and it clogged up our internet so badly we haven't even visited the iplayer site for years.

Thanks for providing information that we can point aunty at - that's if she hasn't turned off her wifi permanently.

Do the film and music industries really think that they generate good will by scaring elderly aunties?

All the best,


Posted by:

04 Mar 2013

Same old scare tactics. How can an ISP prove I was even online when downloading took place? And now they say they won't take my money any more because a guest or a semi-friend downloaded content without my participation or even my knowledge? Fine with me. If they do cut me off, I just go to a different ISP. There are all sorts of alternative providers if you just spend a little time and look. And often for a better price.

Posted by:

04 Mar 2013

Sounds like an illegal form of collusion that would never hold up in court and I hope if this goes anyplace one of those greedy trial lawyers will prosecute a class action suit against all of the above 5 scumbags. And no, I've never down loaded CR material without paying for it---generally from Amazon.

EDITOR's NOTE: Collusion? I don't think so. There's no question that a copyright infringement has taken place, and that is a crime. The RIAA or MPAA would be within their rights to get a court order to force the ISP to identify the infringing party on the *first* offense. This is a more reasonable and (in my opinion) lenient approach.

Posted by:

04 Mar 2013

"requires ISPs to take action against SUSPECTED copyright violators". Guilty until proven innocent!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not really. The first message is along the lines of "We've detected that your account has been used to download copyrighted materials. Here's more info and some tips on how to avoid future infringement." More educational than anything else. Obviously, if it continues to the 4th, 5th and 6th time, there is a more serious problem.

Posted by:

04 Mar 2013

"The rights holders, in turn, are monitoring only peer-to-peer file sharing networks at this time"

I live in Europe with family in other parts of the world including America. I'm a little concerned after reading this article. Why?? As I live in Europe, our family uses "eM**e" to distribute family videos etc. These are zipped with a password, encrypted and passworded and have a unique alphanumerical title so that only we can find them. Could this be a problem for them in America?

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, they're looking for specific files, corresponding to music and movie titles.

Posted by:

04 Mar 2013

Jon has it spot on with the price aspect! Here in Australia we have been for ages, and continue to be, ripped-off with prices (not just in this genre!). I can 'easily' get DVDs and books inter alia cheaper from the USA and UK then here. What a recipe for promoting cheating and I would not be surprised (but have no data) that Aussies are amongst the worst offenders.
If items were a 'reasonable' price that would be the easiest and simplest of anti-piracy measures but the 'industry mobs' either don't get it or don't want to get it. Movie DVD prices here range from about a 'budget' $10-$12 (IF one is lucky!) up to $30 and beyond. For a product that can be 'reissued' indefinitely with very little additional cost this is ludicrous. Make them $2-5 and who could be bothered with downloads - illegal or otherwise?

Posted by:

Marc de Piolenc
05 Mar 2013

Now I understand why the big ISPs are going for this - it's an additional revenue stream. I can't help wondering what happened to due process of law, and whether those idiots really think that this "agreement" is going to protect them from litigation by thousands of angry alleged violators. I predict that, after a few fat settlements or even fatter civil awards to wrongfully throttled customers (if they're stupid enough, or the plaintiffs are angry enough to go to trial), their standards for taking action are going to get much more customer-friendly. Right now I'm sure that the assumption is that anyone using P2P or bittorrent is illegally downloading copyrighted material, when in fact most of the material available through those networks is not copyrighted, or is subject to Fair Use or the Library Exemptions.

EDITOR'S NOTE: There is no such assumption about the use of P2P. The MPAA/RIAA are looking for very specific things in the P2P realm. And what makes you think that "most of the material" is not copyrighted? Studies I've seen indicate that over 90% of P2P traffic is piracy.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2013

If someone was to steal armloads wood from your firewood pile and you caught them, would you give them 5 more chances to do so without trying to stop them? Same difference - Fred is stealing from Barney and Barney is getting tired of it and wants to stop it.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2013

What about the UN Convention on Basic Human Rights? Access to the Internet is a basic human right. Are these lobbyists so strong that the can cut off your human rights? What next, they will put people in jail if their earnings go down?Anyway, their income is too high, comparing to those that really contribute to the world (scientists, doctors, workers, farmers etc) and what is on the Internet, has to be accessible to everybody, otherwise, do not place it on the Internet.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If the UN says the moon is made of green cheese, that doesn't make it so. You're completely missing and/or obscuring the issue. If someone is convicted of stealing and is put in jail, that that violate their human rights? Perhaps the laws are different in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I'm pretty sure that everywhere you go, there are consequences for repeated bad behavior.

Posted by:

05 Mar 2013

Verizon has a contract that they will provide internet service to me for two years at a certain speed. If they slow down or stop my internet then I could sue them for violating that contract.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Heh. I'm sure there's something in that contract about Acceptable Use, too.

Posted by:

08 Mar 2013

My ISP sent me a notice three times last year that my IP was being used to share illegal content--even though I have password-protected my wifi and I have NO (count them, zero) file-sharing programs on my computer (I run regular checks to ensure I have no peer-to-peer software); futhermore, I'd never even heard of the movie they last accused me of having a .rar file to!
You need to do what I've done--call your ISP and ream them a new one! It's simply not possible for anyone to use my account for what they claim it's being used for--my wife is fairly computer literate, but she doesn't use p-2-p software either, and we have no kids.
But the ISP will take an accusation as proof. Which is, despite what you say, presumption of guilt rather than of innocence.

Posted by:

09 Mar 2013

Hi Bob,

Always interesting to hear your thoughts, you are consistently helpful and thought provoking ...

I am very unsympathetic to the music industry and its supporters. My ex wife bought a huge amount of music from MSN music and then found recently when she bought a new laptop the licenses for all these songs cannot be recovered and she has lost them all.

itunes say that when a person dies their music collection - which they paid for - reverts back to Apple and cannot be passed on to anyone else. I think its a rip off, and they have, in my mind, stolen a great deal more from us and the artists they claim to represent, than anyone has stolen from them.

Posted by:

10 Mar 2013

Oh, my heart bleeds for the poor starving artists and composers, the fruits of whose labours are being stolen.


Look, technically, if I buy the DVD of "Iron Spider Super Warriors VII" and invite five of my friends over for a movie night, I'm "depriv(ing) the studios and artists who created that entertainment the fruits of their labor" because I'm letting five people watch FOR FREE a movie when they could be going out and buying five copies of the DVD. Oh, the horror!

I agree that piracy is illegal, but this is not piracy. It's like the film studios sending legal threatening letters to fansites which put up stills from movies. The fact that these sites were unpaid, were giving glowing reviews, and encouraging people to go out and see this great new movie didn't count. No, this is our copyrighted image and you have cost us literal cents by not asking for permission and paying a fee!

Posted by:

10 Mar 2013 is great for music! I purchased an cd and they sent me a free copy of that cd with rights to use it where and when I want, how does that work? I know the digital copy is in the cloud and I can play it anywhere I can access the cloud. But would that be illegal as well?

EDITOR'S NOTE: No, cloud music services such as Amazon, Google Music and iTunes are legal.

Posted by:

Rabid Rotty
10 Mar 2013

You forgot in the users whom should not be concerned are the ones outside of the US. With Canadian Privacy laws, the ISPs laugh at this type of crap, Also here in Canada, P2P and such is deemed as file swapping, and there for not illegal.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You might want to double-check your sources... See:

Posted by:

12 Mar 2013

It really gripes me about the 6 strike rule. I will admit that I have DL'd content from what was probably less-than-legal sites in the past, but I no longer do that. Too many risks of trojans and viruses. And it is not the simplest thing in the world to figure out a PTP site, how to download content, and how to convert it to something that can be watched on a DVD or listened to on a CD. And many times the quality is very poor, no sound with the video, or sound with no video. You just can't trust it. I don't run into too many people that even know what a rar file is. But the real issue for me is these companies and people that are screaming the most are raking in cash by the millions upon millions. How much more do they want? So a few thousand, or a few hundred thousand for that matter, PTP gurus spread their muck with its spam, viruses, malware, trojans and the like attached. Leave them be. You think they are going to purchase the media anyway? It's just a rush for them to think they are getting something for nothing. It's the same as Hollywood celebs shoplifting. The thrill of the risk. And many a time they get something they didn't ask for. Do you think that the big production studios would continue to sometimes spend over $100 million on a single movie if they were going broke? I don't think so.

Posted by:

12 Mar 2013

How can they hold me the owner of the ISP accountable if my 12 year old kid is the 1 downloading and I don't even know how he does it? Even know what he's doing? And wouldn't understand it even if you tried to explain it to me? or say is buddy comes over with his laptop and does the same? When they're sitting in his room I don't know what they're doing. am I to stand over top of them morning noon and night?

EDITOR'S NOTE: That's why there are SIX strikes. "Billy, the Internet company says you downloaded a copy of "The Hobbit" -- is that right? Okay, well then you've got to understand a few things about copyrights..." Twelve-year-old Billy then has five more chances to learn about illegal downloads. And yes, that falls on you to teach him, or take away his laptop.

Posted by:

12 Mar 2013

I have a different approach to this. My approach is that I just don't care about the music industry and hollywood. By that I mean that these things are not important to me. I get netflix and redbox. If the movie is not available there then i don't watch it. I'm sure as hell not ging to pay over $20 for a movie by buying the dvd or going to the movie theater. I simply don't need to watch it. Same with a song. If it ain't free I don't listen to it. You see, these sort of entertainment is not a necessity. Food, shelter, water, companionship, those are necessities. Music and movies are not. We made it through millions of years without movies. If the price is not right or it is not easily accessible then I just entertain myself with something else. here is so much free content out there it is not even funny. If you don't agree with the entertainment industry then do the following two tings. #1 stop illegal download. This is so that they can't complain that they are being stole from. #2 stop buying their product to hit them where it really hurts. Is that simple. When they see real loss of revenue they will turn around and be more accommodating.

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