Copyright Alert System Launches in U.S.

With today’s launch of the Copyright Alert System (CAS) by the Center for Copyright Information, the United States joins the list of countries that have adopted a so-called graduated response system for educating Internet users about online copyright infringement and taking steps to punish repeat offenders.  The CAS is finally launching after a few months’ delay, part of which was supposedly due to the effects of Sandy, the mega-storm that hit the northeast U.S. late last year.  Other graduated response countries include France, New Zealand, and South Korea; the United Kingdom is currently struggling with its own implementation.

The CAS is a partnership between music and video content owners on the one hand and major ISPs on the other.  The content owner representatives include not just the majors (RIAA and MPAA) but also the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) and American Association of Independent Music (A2IM).  On the ISP side, membership includes the five largest providers: AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, and Cablevision.  Book and game publishers are not involved at this point.

The CAS is run by Jill Lesser, a tech policy veteran with deep experience on both the content and ISP sides.  It has an advisory board whose principal function seems to be to curb abuses: it includes advocates for looser copyright laws (Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge) and user privacy (Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum).

The CAS works similarly to other graduated response regimes: copyright owners employ infringement monitoring services, which can identify copyrighted works as users send them around the Internet using fingerprinting and other content recognition technologies.  The monitoring services send notices to ISPs, which issue warning messages to users.  The warnings get stronger with repeat infringements.

ISPs can opt to punish repeat alleged offenders by such means as throttling bandwidth and making users watch videos about copyright.  (ISPs already have policies for terminating repeat infringers’ accounts, which they must have in order to maintain their eligibility for the DMCA safe harbor.)

Where the CAS differs from other graduated response systems is that it is not tied to law enforcement.  The arrangement between content owners and ISPs is voluntary. ISPs will not terminate or suspend users’ Internet accounts, nor will they pass information about infringements on to copyright owners.  Another difference is that the CAS is not being funded through taxes or levies on Internet service (although funding sources are confidential).

In other words, the CAS is a more purely educational approach than France’s HADOPI or other systems.  Analysis of the CAS’s results will therefore be more useful in determining how successful education by itself can be in getting people to respect copyright.  The hope is that education will do more than draconian statutory damages or blunt-instrument legislation.

Given how little effect those approaches have had, it may not be difficult to declare the Copyright Alert System a relative success in the years to come.  As it is now, it seems like quite a reasonable system: it raises awareness about the importance of copyright by using advanced Internet technologies instead of relegating enforcement to outmoded nontechnical legal means; it is permeated with references to legal content sources; and it doesn’t cost users a thing.


  1. 1. Minor nitpick with your terminology: Is an ISP subscriber who is repeatedly accused of infringement necessarily a “repeat offender”? There may not have actually been infringement, or the subscriber may not actually be the infringer.

    2. You say “ISPs already have policies for terminating repeat infringers’ accounts.” But then you say “ISPs will not terminate or suspend users’ Internet accounts.” Time will tell, but the latter statement appears to be false.

    Six Strikes does not preclude termination of accounts in accordance with the ISP’s obligations under the DMCA or the ISP’s own TOS; see pages 7 and 13 of the leaked agreement between the CCI and the ISPs. And the ISP has no obligation to require any more proof than the fact that a subscriber got any number of CAS strikes, or any other accusations of infringement.

    3. You say ISPs won’t “pass information about infringements on to copyright owners.” Where did this info come from? It’s rather misleading, because the copyright owners and their reps will already have everything they need, including IP addresses, as reported to them by MarkMonitor. That’s how they get the ISPs to generate the strike notices to begin with. It’s right there on page 6 of the leaked agreement.

  2. Hi O.M.,

    1. Fair enough, I added “alleged.”

    2. The point about ISPs not terminating subscribers’ accounts as part of the CAS process is taken directly from the CCI’s website. All ISPs already have policies for terminating accounts of users accused of repeat copyright infringement; they have to in order to maintain their safe harbor eligibility under DMCA 512, and thus it’s something of a separate matter. I’ve added a clarification to this effect.

    3. Once again, this info came from the CCI’s website. Monitoring services like MarkMonitor (there are a few of them that the majors use) collect IP addresses, but in many cases not the names of alleged infringers, to include in their reports to content owners. Only the ISPs (again, in many cases) can supply the identities of the accused. Of course there is a difference between an IP address and a personal identity. Part of the whole point of the system is to get ISPs’ cooperation in linking those IP addresses to personal identities, so that users are not accused of something based on IP addresses alone, a longtime concern over online copyright enforcement.

    In general I would suspect that Gigi Sohn was responsible for insisting on #2 (as a matter of copyright enforcement) and Jules Polonetzky was responsible for insisting on #3 (as a matter of privacy). Personally I was happy to see Gigi participating in this, as opposed to, as she herself put it, “guessing and complaining from the outside.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: