New data on “6-strikes” copyright system says 3% of alleged pirates had internet speed reduced

Internet service providers sent 1.3 million copyright warnings to subscribers in 2013, but only took steps to punish a small percentage of those by slowing down their connections.

Those findings are part of a new report that shines light on a controversial 6-strike enforcement process that was created last year as result of a private partnership between big studios and five large ISP’s (AT&T(s t), Cablevision, Comcast(s cmcsa), Verizon(s vz) and Time Warner Cable(s twc)). It involves the internet providers taking a series of escalating measures against alleged copyright infringers.

The process begins with two simple warning notices, followed by two more notices that require an acknowledgment, and then two “mitigation” measures — which involve the ISP redirecting the subscribers’ homepage and slowing down their internet connection.

Until now, few details have been available about how many people were affected and how the system has worked in practice. Here are some highlights from the report, which covers 10 months from 2013:

  • 722,820 subscribers received a total of 1.3 million “Alerts”
  • Only three percent, or 37,456 of the accounts, reached level 6, which results in reduced internet speed
  • 265 people challenged the Alerts under an arbitration system and 18 percent of those (47 people) were successful, mostly by showing that someone else had used their account
  • “The majority of peer-to-peer copyright infringement is fueled by a small group of younger, predominately male digital consumers”

  • The report claims that there no “false positives” in which the content owner had misidentified the account

The report also states that most people knock off the infringing activities after the first notice, and that subsequent notices lead to a further decrease in the behavior. Here’s a graphic:

infringement screenshot

The tone of the report suggests that Hollywood and music studios, which for years engaged in hardline legal tactics against piracy, are now embracing a more moderate philosophy when it comes to copyright enforcement.

In particular, the report notes that the digital marketplace has changed dramatically since 2009, and that consumers now have many options to buy legal versions of songs and videos at a reasonable price:

“With this expansion of Internet radio and music and video streaming and subscription services like Spotify, Beats Music, Hulu and Netflix(s nflx), the marketplace for digital content is diverse, easily accessible and affordable.”

This comment appears to validate the theories of scholars like Bill Patry, who have long argued that the problem of piracy is largely a pricing problem, and that content owners should respond to it by flooding the market with authorized copies.

The 6-strike system itself is also a far cry from the original “3-strikes” system that copyright hawks had championed for years, and that (though never implemented) called for cutting off infringers from the internet altogether.

Finally, the overall tone of the report is much less strident than what we have come to expect from the studios, which have repeatedly portrayed file-sharing in the past as a criminal and law enforcement problem to be exterminated. This report instead uses more moderate language, and even takes account of the privacy interests of internet subscribers.

Some, however, may be uncomfortable that this de facto privacy enforcement regime between ISP’s and content owners is taking place largely outside the legal system, and that it could make the stakes even higher in the ongoing debate over net neutrality.

Here’s the report with some key parts underlined:

6 Strikes Summary

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