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Copyright Alert System: Six Strikes and You're Annoyed

Copyright Alert System: Six Strikes and You're Annoyed

Several major ISPs are beginning this week to implement the long-promised Six Strikes system designed to rein in online pirates. This kinder, gentler approach is unlikely to trigger the kind of wrath the entertainment industry's lawsuits did a decade ago, but it may not curb illegal file-sharing to any great extent either.

By Erika Morphy
02/27/13 5:00 AM PT

The Center for Copyright Information is ready to start implementing the Copyright Alert System, it said Monday.

Under the system, content partners, such as music and movie producers, will alert participating ISPs of alleged P2P copyright infringement by their customers. The ISPs will then forward those copyright alerts to the supposed offenders.

Users may receive a maximum of six of these alerts with an increasing degree of seriousness. The first two are characterized as "educational" alerts. They will be followed by two "acknowledgement" alerts, which will require a response. If these alerts fail to garner the appropriate response from the subscriber, the ISP will send two "mitigation" alerts.

The consequences of these final alerts will differ depending on the ISP, but they range from a temporary reduction of Internet speed to redirection to a landing page that requires the account holder to review and respond to educational information, or redirection to a landing page until the account holder contacts the ISP.

A consumer can request an independent review administered by the American Arbitration Association within 14 calendar days of receiving an alert believed to be erroneous. There is a US$35 filing fee, which will be refunded if the challenge is successful.

The Softer Side of Copyright Infringement

This new system is the entertainment industry's answer to the failed strategy of suing alleged copyright content infringers for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars -- an aggressive strategy of the early 2000s that wound up alienating so many consumers the industry shut it down.

The Six Strikes approach is widely viewed as a more balanced and fair way for the industry to address copyright infringement.

"Six Strikes both helps educate users and discourages them from engaging in illegal file-sharing," Daniel Castro, senior analyst with the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, told the E-Commerce Times.

It will probably have its greatest success with certain types of illegal file-sharing -- such as P2P file-sharing on BitTorrent -- as well as with people who engage in illegal file-sharing without realizing the impact of their actions.

"The Six Strikes effort likely won't be effective against illegal file-sharing on cyberlocker sites, such as the recently launched Mega," Castro added. "This is a growing source of digital piracy, so other countermeasures will be needed to combat this type of IP theft. It also will not stop all of the most egregious violators who engage in digital piracy as a for-profit activity."

Questions Remain

The system must be seen in action before a final verdict can be levied on how well it works or how fair it truly is.

For example, some movies and other materials are legally downloadable after certain time periods, noted Ramesh Subramanian, the Gabriel Ferrucci Professor of Computer Information Systems at Quinnipiac University.

"Maintaining such a database can be very onerous," he told the E-Commerce Times, adding "what about movies and other materials that are international in content and may not be subject to the U.S. DMCA?"

Another issue of potential concern is what sort of records the system will maintain about the alleged infringers, said Subramanian. "When would [a record] of infringement be deleted? Who is responsible for this? How transparent is the process?"

All of these questions can pose problems for Fourth Amendment rights to privacy, he added.

As it stands, the system is flawed, Subramanian pointed out. It leaves out small or local ISPs, which means that anyone who wants to defeat this rule can simply set up an account with one of those providers.

"Another problem is that the ISPs can be easily thwarted by using VPNs or Tor," he said, "which hides your IP address and other identifiers."


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