This week we saw the implementation of a new “six strikes” Copyright Alert System (CAS) that sees five of the US’s major internet service providers team up with media producers in a bid to curb copyright infringement. The system opens a new front in the battle against online piracy by punishing consumers who download illegal material rather than those who distribute it.
Copyright holders have fought for years to try and reduce the amount of pirated media content available online, but these efforts have hampered by the refusal of search engines like Google to block sites hosting suspect material. So the CAS represents a change of tactics by copyright owners, an effort to cut off the demand rather than the supply, if you will.
No doubt there will be critics who say that CAS is a bit of a cop out, with ISPs going after ‘soft’ targets (like, you and me) because they can’t take down the big boys, but the Center for Copyright Information insists that this isn’t the case. In an attempt to spin a positive light on the move, it claims that the intention isn’t to sue or arrest anyone downloading pirated movies, songs and games, but instead to “educate” them about the damage their actions cause.
In her blog post announcing the implementation phase of CAS, Jill Lesser says that the move is simply a “new way” of reaching out to consumers:
“Implementation marks the culmination of many months of work on this groundbreaking and collaborative effort to curb online piracy and promote the lawful use of digital music, movies and TV shows,” writes Lesser.
“Consumers whose accounts have been used to share copyrighted content over P2P networks illegally (or without authority) will receive Alerts that are meant to educate rather than punish, and direct them to legal alternatives. And for those consumers who believe they received Alerts in error, an easy to use process will be in place for them to seek independent review of the Alerts they received.”
CAS is the culmination of a team effort by US copyright holders and ISPs which has the backing of organizations including Time Warner Cable, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and the government. The system has been in the works for quite some time, having originally been announced back in 2011, only to be held up by ISPs initial reluctance to get involved, and more recently due to Hurricane Sandy.
The system follows a “six strikes” and you’re out policy, with offenders being sent notifications “educating them” about the consequences of their actions each time they’re caught downloading illegal material. Those that ignore these initial, thinly-veiled warnings will then be ‘punished’ by having their connection speeds throttled, and/or access to certain sites restricted. After six strikes, ISPs will then be authorized to take the most drastic action and suspend a customer’s service indefinitely.
CAS “Big Brother” Tactics: Scaring Consumers Into Submission
CAS will probably have a big impact on piracy, so long as its surveillance technology is up to the job. After all, CAS preys on one of our most primal human emotions – people don’t like being watched, and many tend to assume that much of their online activity goes unnoticed, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. ISPs and companies like Google and others see pretty much everything that you do online – the sites you visit, what times you visit them, the files you download, people you’re in contact with and more.
For many users, just being notified that someone is aware they are downloading illegal files will be enough of a deterrent. After all, there is plenty of academic evidence to suggest that being watched makes people act more honestly, and its this weakness that CAS is aiming to exploit. The realization that they’re under surveillance will scare many people away from using illegal download sites.
But while CAS will reduce piracy to an extent, ultimately those who are determined to download and/or distribute illegal content will always find a way to do so. For example, cyberlockers like Kim Dotcom’s Mega will not be affected by CAS, and neither will tools like email and shared Dropbox folders, all of which can be used to share illegal content.
At best, the most that CAS can hope to achieve is to push piracy deeper underground, making it harder to access. But as far as stopping it completely – it doesn’t stand a chance.