Major California ISPs introduce Copyright Alert System

Five major U.S. Internet service providers and four movie and music trade groups recently launched the Copyright Alert System. The project’s goal is to discourage piracy by warning Internet users away from websites suspected of copyright infringement.

The groups’ Center for Copyright Information requires participating copyright holders to share potential piracy findings with ISPs. The ISPs – including Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Cablevision – then let identified customers know their accounts have been linked to alleged copyright infringement.

The first warning is mild and informative with a list of available sites for legal access to films or music. Repeat violators receive increasingly harsh warnings. When five or six instances of inappropriate file-sharing are found, ISPs may move to action. Customers could end up with a restricted bandwidth or lose control of a browser search that defaults to an anti-piracy site.

The punishments fall short of a full-fledged denial of Internet service. CCI’s current plans do not check streamed or access-protected sites.

Critics say the Internet policing system is loaded with flaws that give the monitoring group too much power. ISP customers who feel they’ve been wrongly accused can appeal to a CCI-funded arbitrator whose decision is final.

Reports say the real test for the Copyright Alert System is how seriously ISP users respond to it. Users could try to work around bandwidth and browsing inconveniences or switch to an ISP with no connection to the monitoring group. Those aren’t the results CCI expects to get.

The group is hoping citizens become sensitive to the differences between legitimate and illegal entertainment sites. CCI thinks warnings will provide enough incentive and information for users to tap in to free, legal movie and music sources.

Copyright concerns are not exclusive to the entertainment industry. The lessons CCI learns from the monitoring experiment could teach legal intellectual property advisers and businesses managers in other fields to strengthen copyright protection.

Source: latimes.com, “ISPs become copyright enforcers,” Jon Healey, Feb. 25, 2013