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Copyright Alert System

How The Online Piracy Alert System Affects You

In a new warning system launched Monday, Internet service providers will begin alerting users engaged in online piracy and possibly limit repeat offenders’ Internet access.

Called the Copyright Alert System (CAS), it’ll be adopted by five of the most popular service providers, including AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon.

It’s worth noting that the Copyright Alert System is not a law.

How It Will Work

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will collaborate to monitor the Internet for users who download copyrighted material from websites such as BitTorrent or Utorrent.

Once a user is identified, the ISP will send a warning. There is a 3-tier system of warnings with two warnings per tier. After 6 warnings the user is blocked.

Categorizing the first two warnings as “educational alters”, the user will be informed that their online activity was logged.

Next, come the “acknowledgment alerts” that will take over the user’s browser. A message will be displayed that outlines the user was “caught” wherein the user must acknowledge that they have received a warning.

Finally, the last 2 warnings are called “mitigation measures” because the ISP will withhold bandwidth from the user and/or block access to certain websites.

The ISP cannot disable the Internet completely; however, the user’s ability to freely choose to go to any website will be severely impaired.

What If You’re Flagged?

Consumers whose accounts have been used to share copyrighted content over P2P networks illegally, or without authority, will receive alerts that are meant to educate rather than punish and direct them to legal alternatives. ISPs have the option of modifying the provisions but cannot terminate accounts as a mitigation measure.

The Center for Copyright Information says that they have worked hard to set up a program that is accurate, fair and protects consumer interests at every step in the process. For example, they retained a recognized technology expert, Stroz Friedberg, to evaluate the content community’s system (run by MarkMonitor) for identifying alleged infringement over peer-to-peer networks. MarkMonitor uses both trained professionals and automated processes to identify illegal downloading of whole movies, TV shows, and musical recordings, and the system is designed to eliminate false positives.

Anyone who thinks they received an alert in error can request a review. There’s an arbitration process to challenge a warning — say if you, in fact, had the right to distribute the file or if the file falls under fair use — that costs $35; if you win the case, that fee gets reimbursed.

How Does This Affect You?

“We see 20-30 million infringements every day,” said Thomas Sehested, who is in charge of antipiracy services and technology at Mark Monitor. “Most people are unaware of how public everything they do online is. Whether they download illegal software or post to their Twitter page, a lot of people are unaware of how public it is, if you’re looking for it.”

Intellectual property is defined as:

  • Copyright
  • Trademarks
  • Patents
  • Geopolitical indicators

The RIAA and MPAA’s members tell Mark Monitor which shows, movies and songs to look for, and it then performs its monitoring magic and sends along shame lists to the ISPs.

In other words, CCI is hoping to teach people not to search for “free download of Walking Dead” or “Rhianna’s new album torrent” and click on the first website that turns up, yet instead, turn to Amazon or iTunes.

How You Can Protect Yourself

Most Internet users will never notice the Copyright Alert System — especially if they’ve locked their Wi-Fi networks. The content industry is gradually learning that making media easily available via legitimate channels — like iTunes, Netflix, and other mechanisms — is the best way to deter piracy. So, the simple way to avoid being dinged by the Copyright Alert System is to not engage in piracy or illegal file sharing.

Folks who do engage in file sharing — which is not in itself illegal — can take steps to protect themselves. Using encryption technologies in file-sharing client software probably won’t do much to protect users: Sure, ISPs won’t be able to peer into your traffic, but ISPs generally don’t want to peer into your traffic anyway.

However, other users of the file-sharing service will be able to see what you’re doing, and some of those users work for RIAA and MPAA. And they know how to work around things that claim to keep spying eyes off your file sharing.

Will It Work?

This remains to be seen. If the system is inaccurate or causes users to unfairly lose Internet access — particularly in areas where there’s little or no competition for Internet service — then the Copyright Alert System could become another major problem for the content industry. Sort of like that time 83-year-old Gertrude Walton was sued for illegally sharing over 700 songs on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks in early 2005, under the username “smittenedkitten.” The problem with the case was that Gertrude Walton not only did not own a computer, or know how to use one, but had, in fact, died in December of 2004. There are some other pretty amusing lawsuits filed in the name of copyrights, and you can check out a few here.

To learn more about the Copyright Alert System click here.

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