The MPAA and its membership, internet service providers, IFTA and the leading music industry body the RIAA has launched a standardised protocol whereby ISPs will notify subscribers when their accounts are used for online copyright theft.

Up until now content owners would tell ISPs about instances of theft and the ISPs would pass on the message by email to subscribers. The new system standardises the protocol and is predicated on the belief that affected subscribers will take steps to curtail any further illegal activity.

It also issues a tacit warning to subscribers who may be deliberately committing online copyright theft. Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision and Verizon have signed up to the plan. It is understood New York attorney-general Andrew Cuomo was instrumental in bringing all the parties together.

Subscribers will receive up to six alerts in electronic form, notifying them that their account may have been misused to appropriate film, television shows or music. The system will put in place a series of “mitigation measures” intended to stop online content theft on accounts that do not respond to the alerts.

An independent review will determine whether a consumer’s online activity is lawful or was identified in error. Because the system is voluntary there are no new laws and termination of an account is not an option available to the ISPs, who in addition will not provide subscriber details to rights holders.

A new Center for Copyright Information will support the alerts system and educate consumers about copyright.

According to a joint press release issued by the voluntary parties, online piracy costs the US economy more than $16bn in lost earnings and 373,000 jobs.

“This agreement will help direct consumers to legal platforms rather than illicit sites, which often funnel profits to criminals rather than the artists and technicians whose hard work makes movies, television, and music possible,” Michael O’Leary, the MPAA’s evp for government relations, said.

IFTA president and CEO Jean Prewitt called the agreement “a textbook example of the private sector working cooperatively to help solve a glaring economic problem while protecting consumers.”