'Copyright Alert System' rolls out to catch illegal downloaders

Five major ISPs, including AT&T, Cablevision, Verizon, Time Warner, and Comcast, sign on to help copyright holders "educate" consumers downloading copyrighted movies, games, music, and more.

The "Copyright Alert System," aka "six strikes," kicked off today with the cooperation of five major Internet service providers. The goal of the new campaign is to curb copyright infringement by going after consumers rather than pirates.

While the CAS seems like something that would raise the hackles of privacy and civil liberty groups, the plan isn't to arrest, sue, or fine people downloading illegal movies, games, or music. Instead, the group managing the program -- the Center for Copyright Information -- says its objective is to "educate" such downloaders that they are infringing on protected intellectual copyrights.

"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," executive director for the Center for Copyright Information Jill Lesser wrote in a blog post today. "The CAS marks a new way to reach consumers who may be engaging in peer-to-peer (P2P) piracy."

The Center for Copyright Information is a joint venture between Hollywood copyright holders and ISPs -- it is also backed by the White House. AT&T, Cablevision, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast are the participating ISP members in the venture.

The CAS has been in the works since 2011 and was scheduled to go into effect last November. But after a series of delays, including reluctance from ISPs and effects of Hurricane Sandy, the Center for Copyright Information postponed its launch until this year.

Under graduated response, or six strikes, entertainment companies will notify a participating ISP that a customer has allegedly been pirating movies or TV shows illegally. The bandwidth provider will then send a notice intended to educate the customer about the consequences of downloading unauthorized content.

The ISP is then supposed to gradually ratcheting up the pressure on customers who ignore the warnings. Eventually, after six warnings, ISPs can choose to suspend service. Graduated response, however, does not include the termination of service. Customers wrongly accused can appeal to their company and take their case to an arbitration group for review. The plan doesn't protect Internet consumers from being sued by copyright owners, however.

Some ways that pirated material is shared on the Internet, such as cyberlockers, e-mail attachments, and Dropbox folders, are not included under six strikes.

Here's more on the CAS from Lesser's blog post:

We hope this cooperative, multi-stakeholder approach will serve as a model for addressing important issues facing all who participate in the digital entertainment ecosystem. From content creators and owners to distributors to consumers, we all benefit from a better understanding of the choices available and the rights and responsibilities that come with using digital content, thereby helping to drive investment in content creation and innovative services that offer exciting ways to enjoy music, video and all digital content.

Over the course of the next several days our participating ISPs will begin rolling out the system. Practically speaking, this means our content partners will begin sending notices of alleged P2P copyright infringement to ISPs, and the ISPs will begin forwarding those notices in the form of Copyright Alerts to consumers. Most consumers will never receive Alerts under the program. 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.

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