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"Six Strikes" Copyright Alert system names surprisingly good advisors


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Gigi Sohn

The Center for Copyright Information, the organization tasked with overseeing a new anti-piracy scheme negotiated by the nation's leading content companies and ISPs last summer, began to take shape Monday as the organization announced its executive director and several members of its advisory board. The picks suggest that the architects of the "Copyright Alert" system may be making a serious effort to strike a balance between the interests of copyright holders and the rights of users.

Leading the organization as its executive director will be Jill Lesser, whose résumé includes a stint at the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way and time as an executive at AOL Time Warner. In a statement, she pledged to focus on "education and deterrence, not punishment."

CCI also named several people for its advisory board. Jerry Berman, founder of the Center for Democracy and Technology (where Lesser serves as a board member) will advise the organization. So will Marsali Hancock of iKeepSafe.org and Jules Polenetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum.

The most surprising choice for the advisory board is Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge, who has been one of the most persistent critics of major content companies and their campaign for ever-harsher copyright laws. In an emailed statement, Sohn said that she still had some concerns about the way the "Copyright Alert" system works, but she hopes that serving on the CCI's advisory board will allow her to "advocate for the rights of Internet users and to provide transparency."

"If implemented reasonably, the Copyright Alert System should alleviate the push for government intervention and excessive litigation and ultimately be a net positive," Sohn said. Sohn praised Lesser as "a person of great intelligence and integrity."

Of course, the advisory board has little direct authority over the Copyright Alerts system. The real power lies in the hands of the CCI's executive board, which is stocked with content companies and ISPs. Still, a seat on CCI's advisory board gives public interest advocates like Berman and Sohn some leverage. Presumably, they would not have joined without assurances that their input would be taken seriously, and if they start to feel ignored, they can always resign in protest, giving the CCI a black eye in the press.

The Copyright Alerts system will provide users with an opportunity to appeal "alerts" to an independent entity. That independent review process will be overseen by the American Arbitration Association. The AAA will train independent reviewers who will, in turn, hear appeals by individual users.

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