Professors Zittrain and Grimmelmann Explain the Nuances of the New Copyright Alert System

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on March 11, 2013


The new Copyright Alert System launched two weeks ago. Also known as “Six Strikes” and by its acronym, CAS, it is a collaborative effort between copyright owners (major record companies and Hollywood studios) and participating Internet service providers (ISPs) to curb online piracy. This is a voluntary program, and is not regulated by the government in any way.

Jill Lesser, executive director for the Center for Copyright Information, the group leading the program, says a lot of those who share illegal content don't realize it's wrong. Thus a major objective of CAS is to educate. Part of the alert system includes tips on how to secure your wireless connection and where to find legal downloads.

The Copyright Alert System works like this: owners of copyright content send notices of alleged peer-to-peer (P2P) copyright infringement to ISPs, and the ISPs forward Copyright Alerts to consumers. The Alerts are meant to educate rather than punish–at first. However, if the first several notifications are avoided, they escalate in seriousness and the ISPs can take actions such as slowing the offender’s Internet connection or blocking access to some sites. One thing to note is that the monitoring will be done by copyright owners, not the ISPs. The Internet providers are responsible for taking the IP addresses provided by the copyright owners and matching them to the customers who had those addresses at the time the alleged infringements occurred.

TAP scholars James Grimmelmann, New York University, and Jonathan Zittrain, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, explained aspects of the system on two different NPR shows.

Professor James Grimmelmann on NPR's All Things Considered: Piracy Alert System Raises Concerns About Fair Use, Misidentification:

Motivation for the ISPs to Participate

Some of them, like Comcast, are also in the entertainment business. They produce and sell entertainment content. They're copyright owners, too, and it's in their interest. The others are probably doing it to avoid trouble. That is an area on which they don't want to be accused of shielding infringers, so they see this as a way to hold off the pressure that might try to hold them liable for infringements by finding a compromised middle ground.

Regarding Privacy Concerns

One of the concerns has to do with due process, that there's just this list of IP addresses and it comes with the presumption that person who was targeted actually was doing something illegal. But there's a concern about misidentification. There's a concern that some of these uses might be fair uses and legal. There is a concern that it might be just somebody else was using my wireless network and it wasn't me at all.

Professor Jonathan Zittrain on NPR’s Marketplace: Six strikes, then what? A look into the new Copyright Alert System:

Issues with Shared Internet Connections

It [the Copyright Alert System] would make sharing one’s Internet connection a much dicier proposition because, to the extent that one is sharing it with a circle of people and you don’t know who everybody is, you can imagine these alerts starting to come up all the time and having to complete the re-education again and again, and it’s the kind of thing that could have an impact on that kind of sharing, either within a household or within a community where there are various forms of access sharing.

Recourse if Falsely Accused

If you get a copyright alert and you say “How dare you, I’m a perfectly upstanding citizen and I’ve never done any such thing”, there’s a whole process to go to request a review. I’m not sure exactly what you would say, except I didn’t do it. It is ideally supposed to go to an independent reviewer and you pay a filing fee of 35 dollars. Now, for people whose Internet access may cost 35 dollars a month, that’s a lot to ask for a review of an accusation that has simply emerged on a pop-up box on one’s screen, and I’m not sure how well this will do it.

The Los Angeles Times points out that “one of the assumptions driving this effort is that simply telling people to stop will be enough to transform much of the public into paying customers, or at least willing to use one of the free services that pays for the music and movies it streams. That's an assumption worth testing.”