White House Endorses New 'Six Strikes' Agreement Over Copyright

A number of major ISPs have signed on to a new agreement seeking to regulate the pursuit of users who allegedly download copyright-infringing material. In an unusual step, the White House has added its own voice to the discussion. US IP Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel posted an entry to the White House Blog today, saying:*
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.

We believe that this agreement is a positive step and consistent with our strategy of encouraging  voluntary efforts to strengthen online intellectual property enforcement and with our broader Internet policy principles, emphasizing privacy, free speech, competition and due process.
Ars Technica has further details on the agreement. ISPs, including AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast, have agreed to adapt a six-strikes policy that aims to put a friendlier face on the copyright infringement police. After years of demanding customer information (even without the approval of a judge) and three-strikes-and-you're-out policies, copyright holders are talking about the need to 'educate' consumers with something other than the barrel of a metaphorical gun.

ISPs now agree to send their customers a series of 'alerts.' The first four are described as notifications of varying strength, while the fifth requires that the ISP take action 'reasonably calculated to stop future content theft.' The strength of such measures is described as increasing as the number of incidents rise.

One of the crucial benefits of this approach is that it maintains the Safe Harbor clause established in the DMCA. That clause specifies that ISPs cannot  be sued by irate rightsholders so long as they 1) Were previously unaware of the existence of infringing content and 2) Take steps to remove such content upon receiving a notice of infringement. This point has been a (needless) bone of contention between ISPs and copyright holders for years. The latter have variously insisted that ISPs are required to take draconian actions and aggressively monitor their own users. The former have generally resisted doing so, on the grounds that it's both effectively impossible and exceedingly dangerous. An ISP that goes too far in its attempt to monitor the actions of its users would waive its own protection.

We all know how well this ended

The new agreement and the White House's endorsement may be the beginning of a new, saner approach to copyright management and enforcement, but it's by no means certain that the kinder rhetoric will be backed by better policy. To be blunt, it's hard to believe that the likes of the MPAA and RIAA, having spent a decade fanatically espousing a failed strategy, have suddenly turned over a new leaf.

*Note - While the Administration's decision to weigh in on this is worth noting, this is not an official endorsement or a legally binding document.