Kinder, Gentler, Perhaps More Annoying Copyright Alert System Coming Soon

The Center for Copyright Information and major Internet service providers are preparing to roll out within weeks the Copyright Alert System, designed to cut down on online piracy.

AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision volunteered to work with the CCI to develop a system of electronic messages to users suspected of illegally downloading digital entertainment content.

If a participating ISP using the system suspects a consumer of violating online copyright regulations, they will send the user a series of messages alerting them of their behavior. Depending on the ISP, the consumer could receive between four and six messages that progressively increase in severity.

CCI hired tech expert Stroz Friedberg to evaluate the MarkMonitor system used to spot illegal downloads, and found it is accurate and working properly. He will also continue to monitor how ISPs match the IP addresses linked to copyright violations.

Hoping to Educate

Although the program has been referred to as a six-strikes-and-you’re-out system, the CCI said that’s not the case. Instead, the alerts are designed to help better educate consumers on illegal downloading activity and how to prevent it going forward. The organization said it also hopes to provide information about how to access legal digital content.

The ISPs do have the power to enact different types of corrective measures, however. Depending on the ISP, it could reduce download and upload speeds for users that don’t respond to the series of messages, require that they review educational materials or redirect them to a landing page until the ISP receives a response. The ISPs are not required to terminate Internet connections, and are prevented from cutting off essential services such as phone, email, security or health systems.

Users who believe they are being wrongly targeted can request a review for a US$35 fee before a mitigation measure is enacted. That fee will be returned if the user wins the appeal, and can also be waived by an independent review body.

The ISPs are expected to implement the new system over the next two months.

Verizon is hoping it will cut down on illegal activity online, said Ed McFadden, the carrier’s executive director of external communications.

“Verizon believes that the alert process that we will be implementing will be helpful in educating our customers about how best to legally access content, addressing those instances of illegal access, while also protecting our customers’ privacy,” McFadden told the E-Commerce Times.

The CCI did not respond to our request for further details.

SOPA, PIPA Aftermath

The Copyright Alert System comes months after major legislation designed to prevent illegal downloading failed. The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act would have given private copyright holders and the U.S. Justice Department greater power to seek court orders forcing ISPs or ad networks to cut off business with websites suspected of piracy.

The bills were supported by many major entertainment and recording companies, which are struggling to preserve revenue as many consumers turn to free digital movies, music and TV shows rather than buying content from authorized providers.

“The creative industries have spent enormous resources to try and combat this problem yet consumers continue to zealously pirate music, movies, entertainment software, books, and other forms of digital content,” IP Enforcement and Internet attorney Chun Wright told the E-Commerce Times. “Illegal downloading happens behind closed doors and consumers either don’t think they will get caught or don’t know understand that piracy is wrong.”

However, consumer advocacy groups, online communities and Internet companies such as Google and Wikipedia challenged the bills, saying they amounted to censorship and would lead to a decline in innovation. Their online protests helped lead to the ultimate failure of SOPA and PIPA.

A more aware public sensitive to interference by ISPs could grow disgruntled with the Copyright Alert System, said cybercrime attorneyMichael Cernyar.

“I don’t see any upside for the participating ISPs,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “This is something that they volunteered to enter. The bottom line is that Americans like their privacy. In addition, they hate Big Brother. This is an opportunity for the ISPs that agreed to the Copyright Alert System to lose their market share, providing the smaller ISPs that are unwilling to participate with an opportunity for greater market share.”

The Copyright Alert System, though, puts a greater emphasis on educating consumers than SOPA and PIPA did, and it lacks the power to terminate Internet connections or specific online activity. That could give it a better chance of cracking down on illegal downloads, at least on a small scale, Wright noted.

“The Copyright Alert System shows promise to be an important tool that helps reduce online piracy,” Wright said. “While it remains to be seen whether this new system stops hardcore copyright violators, it is likely that casual pirates will be deterred from illegal downloading once they start receiving alerts and educational information under the system.”

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