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/ March 1, 2013
The New Copyright Alert System Is The First Anti-Piracy Measure With A Heart, Maybe Sort Of

Remember those days when you raced home from school to download the latest Shaggy song on Napster, Morpheus, Kazaa, LimeWire, eMule, BearShare, or whatever program was still standing after its never-ending legal battles? Or when the RIAA starting suing random people and you feared for all of ten minutes that the same could happen to you? Even as networks and clients were shut down, we all found new ways to download for free, and anti-piracy laws in the US remain the most exhaustingly unsettled piece of tech legislation.

But on Monday the brand new Copyright Alert System went into effect. Behind it is the Center for Copyright Information, an organization created by the RIAA and MPAA to rethink the old model of scare tactics and aggressive DMCA takedowns. The latter will continue to direct copyright claims and takedowns on the web, but its focus is content hosts; the Copyright Alert System, on the other hand, is a level-headed approach that focuses on the user. While it also discourages illegal content sharing, the emphasis of the alert system is actually to encourage legal downloads.

Here’s how it works: Media groups like the MPAA and RIAA will be watching P2P networks for illegal activity. If they see you downloading the latest One Direction album and decide to reprimand you, they’ll nudge your ISP and automatically post a really embarassing Facebook status about your obsession with One Direction [Editor’s Note: Said status is NYU Local speculation, probably not true]. The system only applies to customers of participating ISPs (AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon), so if you’ve been debating a switch to RCN, here’s your sign!

ISPs make up their own repercussions, but most providers will strike first-offenders with a simple popup alert. Just a little “Hey, don’t do that!” On Comcast, the notice will also trigger an email to the account owner. Eventually you’ll have to login and acknowlede the notice, call Comcast to say you’re sorry and somewhere around strike 4–6, your internet could start slowing down. The disgruntled media groups won’t even get your name, just the warm feeling of knowing you got called out for being naughty. It’s like when you failed a test in 4th grade and had to have it signed by mommy and daddy — there’s no expulsion, just a slap on the wrist to get you to right your own wrong.

The question is, will it work? It just may, but that might be a result of changing media models (e.g. Spotify and Netflix) rather than a breakthrough in ethics. The Copyright Alert System was first drafted in 2011, and behavior in file sharing communities has changed quite a bit since then. Torrent sites, some Usenet trackers and the biggest P2P offenders of 2011–2012 have been laregely eradicated (or at least tamed), and those that remain are just treading to survive as legal ways to consume are easier, more convenient and finally affordable. That’s not true everywhere, but it’s easy to imagine a future when it will be.

The Copyright Alert System hopes to accentuate the convenience of legal downloading with a friendly nudge and a link to educational resources rather than a roar. As with any anti-piracy measure, communities will create new anonymizing practices and protocols, and even when all industries have found (the elusive) comprehensive all-you-can-eat model, there will still be those that get high off sticking it to the man.

[Image courtesy of Ben Zweig.]