Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Warning to Internet Users - Copyright Alert System Arrives in the US

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
A new monitoring system, namely the Copyright Alert System (CAS), is now currently live in participating jurisdictions across the United States. This system aims to reduce the amount of intellectual property theft by allowing ISPs to collaborate with content owners and monitor a user’s downloaded content to send warnings based on a determination of whether said content is illegitimate with respect to copyright of a rights holder.

The system was created by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), which is a group aimed to educate consumers regarding the importance of copyright protection. Their members include major content associations such as: the six major movie studios, various record labels, cable companies, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recording Industry Association of America. CCI has also secured participation from major ISPs across the US including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon.

Graduated Warning Process 

The system works as such: Content owners scour the internet to find illegitimate versions of their content and inform ISPs of the details of these versions (e.g., filenames, sizes, codes, etc.). The ISPs in turn track their subscribers to verify whether they access any illegitimate content with respect to the content they were given by the content providers.

If the ISP detects that the subscriber has indeed accessed illegitimate materials, the ISP delivers a warning to the subscriber informing them that downloading copyrighted content is illegal. If the subscriber continues to access illegitimate content, the warning will occur once or twice more. The third and fourth warning require the subscriber to acknowledge that they received alerts for accessing illegitimate content. After this stage, the fifth warning disables access to websites until a phone number is called for “educational information regarding copyright”. The sixth and final warning gives discretion to the ISP to impose further sanctions such as temporarily throttling bandwidth. It should be noted that complete cessation of internet usage is not one of the sanctions proposed.

After the sixth warning there is no further action with respect to CAS. Jill Lesser, the executive director for CCI, explains the rationale of this graduated system:
We hope that by the time people get to alerts number five or six, they will stop. Once they've been mitigated, they've received several alerts, we're just not gunning to send them any more alerts because they're not the kind of customer that we're going to reach with this program.
It should be understood that a subscriber that shows complete disregard for this CAS system is still subject to copyright infringement in court, just like any other citizen. However, CAS has stated that no personal information regarding ISP subscribers will be shared with content owners as to identify the subscriber personally. Therefore there is no shortcut to determining the identities of alleged persons accused of copyright infringement through CAS.

The hope is that the CAS system works on the aggregate population to change behavior and shift the culture to that which is more informed on copyright and expectantly respects the intellectual property rights of others.

Fair Process Concerns 

One of the motivations for such an initiative was to mitigate the well-publicized drawn out court cases of copyright infringement for non-commercial use. However unlike court cases which exercise the inherent right of due process, a private system has generated proprietary mechanisms to deal with issues of appeal.

The current CAS system allows for the user to request an independent review at a nominal cost of $35. This mechanism is designed to identify false positives and allows for the user to plead their case to the ISP. If the warning is indeed false, the cost is refunded to the subscriber and the warning is removed from the account.

Successful Solution? 

This experiment is one worth keeping an eye on as there have been many suggested ideas by industry analysts and academics of how to tackle the spread of illegitimate content in the new digital era. Therefore the effectiveness of this system will be monitored by many countries, including Canada, evaluating the impact on subscribers, content owners, and the ISPs.

This notion is eloquently summarized by industry analyst and president of Public Knowledge Gigi Sohn, who states:
The Copyright Alert System will be a significant test of whether a voluntary copyright-enforcement system can work while at the same time protecting the rights of Internet users…the creators of the system have taken steps to build in consumer protections and fair process to the system, and it is my hope that it will succeed.
By Kamaldeep Sembi