Comcast Punishes BitTorrent Users By Hijacking Browsers

Earlier this week, five ISPs launched the Copyright Alert System (CAS), but we didn’t have specific details about how it would work. Now we know that Comcast will begin “hijacking” browsers with popup notices that will only go away after a customer contacts Comcast, according to a report by TorrentFreak.

Comcast explains its “mitigation measure” this way:

“If a consumer fails to respond to several Copyright Alerts, Comcast will place a persistent alert in any web browser under that account until the account holder contacts Comcast’s Customer Security Assurance professionals to discuss and help resolve the matter. We will never use account termination as a mitigation measure under the CAS. We have designed the pop-up browser alerts not to interfere with any essential services obtained over the Internet.”

The system depends on how content producers monitor various file sharing systems. They’re looking for IP addresses involved in sharing their copyrighted material. Content owners report those IP addresses and times to Comcast and then Comcast looks for matches in its logs. When it finds a match, it sends a copyright alert to the customer accused of copyright infringement.

Comcast cannot provide personal information about a customer without a specific court order.

On the list of “essential services obtained over the Internet,” most Internet users probably rank Web browsing pretty high. Comcast doesn’t seem to think so. The company defines “essential services” as “digital telephone service (for example to call 911) whoever the telephone service provider, email, security or health service.”

The only way to challenge an accusation of copyright infringement is to hire a lawyer affiliated with the American Arbitration Association (AAA). Comcast says AAA is an “independent provider of alternative dispute resolution services.”

Just as Comcast seems to have a different understanding of what essential Web services are, they also seem to have a different understanding of the word “independent,” since AAA worked with the Center for Copyright Information to develop the appeal process.

AAA will charge $35 to file a dispute, which will be refunded if you prevail in proving you didn’t violate the accuser’s copyright.