Beware copyright infringers and file sharers! A new copyright alert system is being implemented by a wide range of national and local Internet service providers. The effects of being flagged in this system can be as minor as a pop-up or as extreme as termination of your service! Read on to find out what it is, why it’s being implemented, what you can do if you’re falsely accused and if this is a sign of things to come.
What is the Copyright Alert System?
The Copyright Alert System is a voluntary program that select Internet service providers (ISP) have agreed to participate in. It notifies them if a subscriber is suspected of sharing copyrighted content on peer-to-peer or file sharing programs illegally. The report that the ISP receives includes the offending material, who owns the copyright and the IP address the sharing came from. Since IP (Internet protocol) addresses are unique, and most every ISP keeps a log of which household has an assigned IP address, the report will be able to be associated with the household tied to that IP at the time.
The first few alerts are known as education alerts. These alerts notify you of the infringement, educate you on legal ways to purchase or rent copyrighted content and may ask you to agree that you’ve been notified before allowing you to continue web browsing. After the 5th or 6th alert, many ISP’s implement what is called the mitigation phase.
The mitigation phase is where things begin to get more drastic. At this point, the ISP’s have the option to temporarily reduce Internet browsing speeds, force the subscriber to call or speak to a representative before continuing, or to suspend services with the offending user.
Why is the Copyright Alert System being implemented?
The question of why the Copyright Alert System is being implemented isn’t as easy to answer as you may imagine. The official reasons for the implementation include the dramatic rise in copyright infringement on file sharing services and programs and the belief that consumers are doing so without knowledge that the activity is illegal. The initial claim that copyright infringement is on the rise is definitely true. The popular HBO series Game of Thrones saw over 4.2 million illegal or unauthorized downloads.
The second contention, that subscribers are doing so without realizing that it is illegal, is less clear. While there is a portion of the population which honestly didn’t know that downloading a copyrighted item from a torrent or file sharing site was illegal without the copyright owners permission, a larger group may be doing it for other reasons. Many popular shows such as Game of Thrones are only available by premium cable providers, and only then with a subscription to cable. The argument made by some downloading the material is that they are offered no reasonable, legal way to purchase or rent the content.
What can you do if you’re falsely accused? And is this a sign of things to come?
The Copyright Alert System does not allow for you to appeal an educational notice, but does make provisions to appeal if you’ve entered the mitigation phrase (normally after 5-6 notices but as little as two). There are quite a few reasons you can appeal: if you believe your account was incorrectly identified, your account was used without your authorization, you had permission of the copyright holder or you believe the work is covered under fair-use laws or was made before 1923. The appeal is reviewed by an independent review panel. It must be requested within 14 days of a notification and there is a $35 filing fee.
The bigger question on many people’s minds, including this writer, is if this is a sign of things to come. While I fully support and agree with protecting the rights of copyright holders, I worry about a system administered outside of the courts and the idea of ISP’s becoming virtual policemen of the Internet. While the review process for appeals is done by a third-party independent organization, it is not done by a court of law where rules of evidence and legal procedure are followed.
If this new system’s stated goal is purely to educate the inadvertent offenders and to warn the purposeful offenders to stop, it seems to do just that. We will have to wait and see what steps, if any, are done after this system is implemented and where down this slippery slope it leads us.
P.S. You can read more information about this alert system by going to the Center for Copyright Information’s website by clicking here.