A Sensible Approach to the Copyright Alert System

A little over a year ago, we reported on an effort by a number of internet service providers and trade associations representing the major motion picture and recording companies to provide consumers more information about illegal file sharing occurring on their networks. The Copyright Alert System, developed by the Center for Copyright Information, is intended to help users make the right choices when they use the internet to enjoy movies and music by alerting them when illegal file sharing is occurring, and helping them identify legal alternatives.

After over a year of development, the Copyright Alert system is ready to be put into effect, and subscribers to the ISPs that have joined the effort will begin to see these alerts if, and when, their networks are used to download content from illegal sites. As more fully described by CCI today the system consists of tiered notices to consumers which begin with merely passing on notices of alleged infringing activity provided by content owners, and then escalate to notices which require some sort of acknowledgement of receipt. If a user’s account continues to be used to engage in infringing activity, the notices culminate in “mitigation measures” at the discretion of the ISP, which could include requiring a user to review educational materials, for instance. Importantly, the Copyright Alert System never results in termination of a user account.

One of the most positive attributes of this program is the time and effort spent by CCI to develop a system that works, and to ensure that the Alert system has built-in checks and balances that guarantee consumers are able to contest any assertions that they have accessed unauthorized content. First, the system has been thoroughly vetted and tested, including by leading internet advocates as well as technology experts to ensure that the alert system is an educational tool, rather than a punitive measure and that the program is accurate and works properly. Second, in the event of a dispute over whether a notice is accurate or warranted, the system provides for appropriate means to contest the notice, through an independent reviewer (the American Arbitration Association, or AAA) before any mitigation measures are put into place. We think taking the time to get both of these parts of the system right was wise, given that both human beings and technology are imperfect, and mistakes can happen. For a system like this to be a positive educational tool, consumers will have to understand what the messages convey, and feel confident that they are accurate or that there are easily navigable ways to address errors.

As the program readies for its initial roll out, we find it promising that the CCI has taken, and continues to take, such a studious and measured approach to designing an alert system and that it has engaged such a wide variety of experts to provide it with advice. As an organization that strongly supports efforts to ensure a fair and open internet for all, we are encouraged by efforts like the Copyright Alert system that encourage people to continue to consume the creative content they want, while educating them about their activity online, so they can make choices that not only support the creative community, but safeguard their privacy and security online.

For more information about the Copyright Alert System, please visit the Center for Copyright Information.