Wednesday 24 October 2012

US Copyright Alert System to be rolled out in coming weeks

The Center for Copyright Information (CCI) recently revealed its plan to roll out a Copyright Alert System (CAS) in coming weeks.

We have previously reported on the much delayed "six-strike" or "graduated response" system agreed between the major US ISPs (AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon) and the music and film industries, which is intended discourage consumers from illegally downloading copyright-protected material (see Eleonora's posts here and here, and Ben's post here).

The CCI has now announced that, after much hard work to ensure that "the program works well for consumers in every way, to ensure accuracy, protect customer privacy and offer resources that answer consumers' questions", the CAS will begin in the coming weeks.

The CCI explains that the CAS is a system which will enable ISPs to send notices from rightsholders to subscribers alleging copyright infringement over peer-to-peer networks. Users who are alleged to infringe copyright will be sent the following notices:

1. Educational alerts.
2. Acknowledgment alerts requiring the user to confirm receipt of the notices to their ISP.
3. If the alleged infringing activity continues, the user will receive enhanced alerts that contain "mitigation measures".  These mitigation measures will vary by ISP and range from requiring the user to review educational materials to a temporary slow-down of internet access speed.

Further detail on the alerts can be found here. 

The CCI is at pains to point out that termination of  consumers' internet service is not a part of any ISP's CAS program. The CCI clarifies that "contrary to many erroneous reports, this is not a "six-strikes-and-you’re-out" system that would result in termination. There's no "strikeout" in this program."

Rather, the alerts are designed to make consumers aware of activity that has occurred on their internet accounts, to educate them on how they can prevent such activity from happening again (the CCI suggests by securing home wireless networks or removing peer-to-peer software) and provide information about how to access digital content legally.  

This is an educational service catering to consumers to whom "it is not always clear on the Web what is legal and what is not". The CAS intends to explain the law and help consumers find legitimate services to access the content they want.

Further the CAS will enable consumers to seek review of alerts they believe were sent in error. An independent review process will be operated by the American Arbitration Association (AAA) which is "a highly respected, neutral organization with deep experience in administering similar programs". The review system "will allow consumers to ask a trained, impartial professional at AAA to review alerts fairly and confidentially, while honoring their expectation of privacy." What the CCI doesn't say in its latest blog post is that consumers will have to pay US$35 to the CAS to initiate a review procedure, which will be refunded if the consumer wins the review.

The CCI appears to have gone to great lengths to ensure that the CAS is consumer friendly and not over the top. Despite this consumers are already wary, and many have picked up on the fee payable to the CAS in the case of review procedures. It will be interesting to see the impact that the CAS will have in practice. Without any ultimate penalty (other than throttling users' internet services) and bearing in mind that many users are very tech savvy (and are already considering VPNs as a work around),does the CAS have the necessary teeth to make an impact on illegal file sharing in the US?

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