October 19, 2012
AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. are among Internet-service providers that will take a more active role in fighting online piracy under a program due to start within the next two months. The service providers, which also include Time Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp. (CVC), will send as many as six electronic alerts to customers whose accounts show signs of being used to download or distribute illegal music, movies or television shows over peer-to-peer networks.
Customers who receive repeated alerts may have their Internet speed temporarily reduced or be required to review educational materials about copyright. The measures don't include terminating a customer's account, said Jill Lesser, executive director of the Center for Copyright Information, a Washington-based group that's coordinating the effort. "If this is successful it really reduces the need to have government involvement in these issues," Lesser said in an interview. "These voluntary efforts allow us to be far more nimble and customer-focused than broad legislation."
The voluntary system follows the demise of Hollywood-backed online piracy legislation in Congress earlier this year. Lawmakers shelved the anti-piracy bills in the House and Senate in January after Google Inc. and Wikipedia led an Internet protest that eroded political support for the measures. The bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate, were backed by the Motion Picture Association of America and Recording Industry Association of America. The legislation would have let the Justice Department seek court orders forcing Internet service providers, search engines, payment processors and online ad networks to block or stop doing business with non-U.S. sites linked to piracy. They also would have let private copyright holders seek court orders to require payment services and advertising companies to cut off such websites.
Internet companies said the legislation would promote online censorship, disrupt the Web's architecture and harm their ability to innovate. Their online protest, in which Google put a black box on its home page and encouraged people to contact members of Congress, unraveled bipartisan backing for the bills. Under the copyright alert system, which has been in development for more than a year, the MPAA and RIAA will, working with MarkMonitor Inc., look for illegal content sharing on peer-to-peer networks and identify Internet-protocol addresses engaged in the activity, according to Lesser. The addresses will be turned over to the service providers, which will link the addresses to the customer accounts in question and begin sending the copyright alerts, she said.
Customers will be allowed to seek review if they believe the alerts were sent in error, according to a news release on the program. There is a $35 fee for requesting a review, which can be waived by an independent review body, according to a fact sheet on the program. Verizon will outline its alert process to customers in the next week or so, Richard Young, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail, referring further questions to the Center for Copyright Information. Comcast supports the effort and "will roll it out in the near future," Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman, said in an e-mail, declining to offer specifics. Dawn Benton of AT&T, Justin Venech of Time Warner and Jim Maiella of Cablevision didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. "There are possibilities of abuse if it's not done right, but with enough transparency and a robust appeals process hopefully that won't happen," Sherwin Siy, vice president of legal affairs for Public Knowledge, a Washington-based policy group that took part in the protest against the anti-piracy bills, said in an interview.
Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn is on an advisory board of the Center for Copyright Information, which is coordinating the alert system. The center's members include the MPAA, RIAA and the participating Internet service providers. Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the motion picture association, referred questions about the program to the center. Cara Duckworth Weiblinger, a spokeswoman for the recording industry group, said it had no immediate comment. Bloomberg
Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge is continuing his employment raid on his former company, Cablevision. His latest snatch is Jim Blackley, a 16-year Cablevision executive and Charter's new executive vice president for engineering and information technology. Rutledge, Cablevision's former chief operating officer, joined Charter last winter. He has since hired Cablevision executives as Charter's chief operating officer, along with its chiefs of marketing and customer operations. The new top officers won't have to move far. Rutledge is moving the corporate headquarters from Town and Country to the New York City suburb of Stamford, Connecticut. Cablevision is based in New York. St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees the government's "do not call" list, announced Thursday that it will offer a $50,000 prize for the best technical solution to block illegal commercial robocalls. David Vladeck, head of the FTC's consumer-protection bureau, said the agency is attacking illegal robocalls on all fronts, and "one of the things that we can do as a government agency is to tap into the genius and technical expertise among the public." The announcement came at the end of a daylong summit in Washington on robocalls with industry leaders, top federal regulators and technology experts. The "robocall challenge" will open to the public on Oct. 25 and close Jan. 17, 2013. The winner will be announced in April. Bloomberg
Pennsylvania's favorite (or least favorite) political pundit, Ed Rendell, on Friday proclaimed new polls in the race for president to be "screwy." Appearing, as he often does, on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the former mayor/guv/Demcratic Party leader especially questioned new polling in Pennsylvania showing the contest here a toss-up. The political Website realclearpolitics.com, in fact, recently moved the state from "leans Obama" to "toss up," and recent polling in the Keystone State shows Obama's lead has shrunk from seven or eight points to three or four points.
Rendell's case against this apparent Romney gain is based on Ed's assertion that if the race really was that close there'd be evidence of a Romney campaign presence contesting the Commonwealth. There isn't. No targetted TV ads. No Romney visits. So is Rendell right? Or is he merely mouthing Democratic wishful thinking? On the national scene, the poll that dropped everyone's jaw is Gallup's latest "daily tracking" showing Romney with a 7-point edge over Obama headed into the weekend before Monday night's final debate. The Romney lead is by far his biggest advantage yet but the New York Daily News notes the poll was taken over seven days, including only one day of data since the second debate Tuesday night which generally was seen as a win for Obama or, at least, a draw.
Experts say any single poll can be off at any given time and that the best way to measure the race is through averaging multiple polls. That's what realclearpolitics.com does and its results show the following in key states and nationally: Obama holds an average lead of 2.4% in Ohio; Romney up 2.5% in Florida; Obama up 2.8% in Wisconsin; Obama up just .8% in Virginia (a virtual tie); Romney up just .2% in Colorado (a virtual tie); and Romney ahead buy 1% in the national average (a virtual tie). The numbers and dizzying and changing and maybe reflect an electorate that can be quickly moved in a race that some now say could end up unresolved on Election Day. This volatility protects any pollsters whose numbers seem off, but there's little to protect the rest of us from the unprecedented onslaught of polls and how they might impact the outcome of the race. philly.com
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. is not the first to confront this question: With political allies like Ed Rendell, who needs enemies? Casey is just the latest.
Pennsylvania's former governor grumbled this week to the Scranton Times-Tribune that Casey is running a "non-campaign" for a second term against Tom Smith, a former coal-company owner from Armstrong County who has dumped $16.5 million of his own money into the race. To be fair, Rendell has a point. Casey has been running variations of one campaign ad on television, casting Smith as a radical tea-party guy who wants to privatize Social Security and convert Medicare into a voucher program. Rendell called that ad "stupid," not because of its content but because that is the sum and total of Casey's air war on Smith. Smith has a healthy rotation of campaign commercials - some touting his business skills, others attacking Casey - and is outspending Casey on television.
Casey on Thursday laughed off Rendell's rant, calling him a "good friend" who has been "enormously helpful" on the campaign. Rendell later told Clout he is sure that Casey will prevail, explaining that internal polling by President Obama's campaign in Pennsylvania shows Casey leading Smith by 10 percentage points. Polling in this race has been chaotic for more than a week. Of four public polls, two gave Casey a double-digit lead and two showed the race too close to call. Rendell said that Casey "may be marshaling his resources" for the closing days of the campaign. Against a self-funder like Smith, Rendell said, that was smart. This is a complicated relationship: Rendell beat Casey in the heated 2002 Democratic primary election for governor, but then helped him defeat U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in 2006.
Casey made low-key campaign swings through Pittsburgh and Erie on Wednesday and met with reporters in Philly on Thursday. Casey said that he was "not a bit surprised" that Smith invested so much in the campaign or that Smith outraised him in contributions from July 1 to Sept. 30. "He has a national tea-party following and a hard-right following that has all kinds of money," said Casey, describing the more than 500 fundraisers that he has held to stay competitive. "A lot of folks in the political community, and I would include in that reporters, don't seem to have any sense of how challenging this is." Casey said that he would "rather have a more traditional campaign, where you spend more time talking directly to voters." Casey's lackluster campaign is playing right into Smith's effort to cast him as "Senator Zero," an ineffective career politician.
Another politician missing in action in Pennsylvania may unexpectedly be helping Smith. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney seems to have forfeited his chance to win this state, despite his claims three weeks ago during a rare visit here. Smith would be obligated to appear if Romney was staging campaign events in Pennsylvania. That would expose Smith to a much brighter media spotlight. Having seen that performance, Clout can tell you that Smith comes off much better in his well-crafted television commercials. That makes next Friday's lone debate between Casey and Smith must-see TV. Philadelphia Daily News
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