Last summer ISPs and content owners agreed to a Six Strike plan entitled the Copyright Alert System (CAS). This plan sparked widespread debate that it might violate US antitrust statutes and could conceivably be misused to apply “vigilante justice.” The controversial plan is now reaching widespread implementation stage, with all its pros and cons still intact. Here’s how the system works:
First Strike – An ISP receives a notice from a copyright owner that their intellectual property has been violated, so they send their subscriber an online alert. This notice informs them that their account may have been misused for the misappropriation of copyrighted content, that such an act is illegal and that there are consequences that could result from these actions. Since this first strike is “educational” in tone, the alert contains information on how to check the security of their computers and networks to ensure that it was not an unauthorized third party who infringed on the copyright (a naïve, but well-intended suggestion); provide explanations that will assist the subscriber to avoid infringing on copyright in the future (since most people have no idea that downloading a movie the day after its premiere is an infringement, right?); and provide information about sources of music, film and TV content that is available legally (and that is usually boring, old junk that they don’t want to watch anyway).
Second Strike – This alert basically reiterates the information in the first one in case the subscriber’s noggin is denser than Iridium on a cold day, but the ISP is allowed to skip it in its entirety and proceed to the third alert.
Third Strike – This one is much the same as the earlier two, but it comes with a built in mechanism to ensure that the subscriber has received the notice by clicking through to a landing page. Of course, since the ISP cannot be present next to the subscriber’s mouse and force his finger to click on the link, this alert is as toothless as the first two: this forced landing is easy to circumvent.
Fourth Strike – Another alert requiring the subscriber to acknowledge receipt that they’ve been bad. By now the subscriber is either repentant or laughing so hard they’re falling off their chair.
Fifth Strike – Now the laughing stops. At this point the feared Mitigation Measures could come into effect. These can include:
- Temporary throttling of internet download and upload speeds
- Redirection to a landing page until receipt confirmation is achieved
- Other measures as the ISP deems necessary
There are some activities that are off limits for suspension by ISPs, such as disconnecting a voice telephone service, as that could cause the subscriber to not be able to reach emergency services; the subscriber’s email account (for just about the same reasons); and home security or medical monitoring services.
These are especially meaningful since to do otherwise would be to trigger the late night talk show monologue jokes about “you stole Adele 21 so now we’re going to let the burglars clear you out” in the former instance and “you watched The Lorax on your computer? Now see if anyone answers when you’ve fallen and you can’t get up” in the latter. These Mitigation Measures are implemented by the ISPs on their sole discretion so it all comes down to each operator and their relationship with the customer. The more reason not to cuss out your ISP’s customer service representatives.
Sixth Strike – If this was baseball we’d be well along in the innings, but in Mitigationball we’re at the end of the alerts. By this point continued copyright violations have demonstrated to the ISP that they’re not dealing with your garden variety ingénue here but a hardened copyright criminal: A John Dillinger of the download set. The Mitigation Measures will be implemented in full force and the subscriber’s life will become a living Hell… until they shutter their account and either open one under a friend’s name or just deal with another ISP.
CAS’s intent is to educate – not punish – the public. But whether this will end up to be widely regarded as an educational vs. punitive measure remains to be seen.