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.