Dating back to the turn of the last century, copyright holders have alerted Internet providers about alleged copyright infringers on their network.
While many ISPs forwarded these notices to their subscribers, most were not very forthcoming about what would happen after multiple accusations.
This vagueness was in part shaped by law. While it’s clear that the DMCA requires Internet providers to implement a meaningful “repeat infringer” policy, the DMCA doesn’t set any clear boundaries on what constitutes a repeat infringer and when one should be punished.
With the recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Cox, it is now clear that “infringers” doesn’t imply people who are adjudicated, valid accusations from copyright holders are enough. However, an ISP still has some flexibility when it comes to the rest of its “repeat infringer” policy.
In this light, it’s interesting to see that Comcast recently published details of its repeat infringer policy online. While the ISP has previously confirmed that persistent pirates could be terminated, it has never publicly spelled out its policy in such detail.
First up, Comcast clarifies that subscribers to its Xfinity service can be flagged based on reports from rightsholders alone, which is in line with the Fourth Circuit ruling.
“Any infringement of third party copyright rights violates the law. We reserve the right to treat any customer account for whom we receive multiple DMCA notifications from content owners as a repeat infringer,” the company notes.
If Comcast receives multiple notices in a calendar month, the associated subscriber moves from one policy step to the next one. This means that the ISP will issue warnings with increased visibility.
These alerts can come in the form of emails, letters to a home address, text messages, phone calls, and also alerts sent to the subscriber’s web browser. The alerts then have to be acknowledged by the user, so it clear that he or she understands what’s at stake.
Comcast doesn’t state specifically how many alerts will trigger tougher action, but it stresses that repeat infringers risk having their accounts suspended. As a result, all devices that rely on Internet access will be interrupted or stop working.
“If your XFINITY Internet account is suspended, you will have no Internet access or service during suspension. This means any services and devices that use the Internet will not properly work or will not work at all,” Comcast states.
The suspension is applied as a last warning before the lights go out completely. Subscribers who reach this stage can still reinstate their Internet connectivity by calling Comcast. It’s unclear whether they have to take any additional action, but it could be that these subscribers have to ‘promise’ to behave.
After this last warning, the subscriber risks the most severe penalty, account termination. This is not limited to regular access to the web, but also affects XFINITY TV, XFINITY Voice, and XFINITY Home, including smart thermostats and home security equipment.
“If you reach the point of service termination, we will terminate your XFINITY Internet service and related add-ons. Unreturned equipment charges will still apply. If you also have XFINITY TV and/or XFINITY Voice services, they will also be terminated,” Comcast warns.
Comcast doesn’t specify how long the Internet termination lasts but the company states that it’s typically no less than 180 days. This means that terminated subscribers will need to find an Internet subscription elsewhere if one’s available.
The good news is that other XFINITY services can be restored after termination, without Internet access. Subscribers will have to contact Comcast to request a quote for an Internet-less package.
While this policy may sound harsh to some, Comcast has few other options if it wants to avoid liability. The good news is that the company requires users to acknowledge the warnings, which means that any measures shouldn’t come as a surprise.
There is no mention of any option to contest any copyright holder notices, which may become an issue in the future. After all, when copyright holders have the power to have people’s Internet connections terminated, their accusations have to be spot on.
Comcast’s repeat infringer policy is available here and was, according to the information we have available, quietly published around December last year.