This week marks the rollout of the long delayed “Copyright Alert System” aka the six strike anti-piracy program. It’s a bit confusing at a glance, but it’s not nearly as powerful as you’d think. Here’s how the system works, how it’ll affect you, and everything else you need to know.
The Copyright Alert System is a policy created by the Center for Copyright Information with backing from the RIAA and other copyright organizations along with the major internet service providers: AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon. The group monitors peer-to-peer file transfers, and sends out email notices when it detects you’re downloading copyrighted material.
On the surface it all sounds a bit draconian, but lets dig into what the Copyright Alert System really does, and what power it actually has.
What the Copyright Alert System Does
The Copyright Alert System is pretty simple. It’s a system that lets an internet user know that their account is used for downloading copyrighted content illegally using peer-to-peer file sharing.
When you’re caught downloading illegal materials from peer-to-peer networks the first time, you receive an email letting you know that you’re doing something illegal, and educating you on the laws of copyright. The second offense may be another email requiring you to acknowledge receipt, or an educational call from your ISP. From there, the ramifications step up. The second level of warnings (third and fourth emails) require you to watch a video before getting online (or a redirect from certain web sites to an education video).
The final tier of warnings are for the fifth and sixth infraction. They range from throttling your bandwidth to redirection to a new landing page. Each ISP has a different policy with how they’ll tackle each offense, but they haven’t shared their plans yet (you’ll likely get an email this week outlining your ISPs program).
The system starts with content partners (the RIAA, MPAA, etc) snooping in on public peer-to-peer networks to find content they own being shared illegally. When they find a copy, they trace the IP number through the ISP, and forward that information to the ISP. Next, your ISP matches that information with your account, and sends you the warning.
Basically, it’s the content partners who are snooping in on peer-to-peer file sharing networks, not your ISP. If they find you downloading something you’re not supposed to, they’re supposed to verify it’s a full download before sending the notice to your ISP.
What the Copyright Alert System Doesn’t Do
First things first: the Copyright Alert System is not a government program. Your ISP won’t even give up your personal information to the content partners unless it’s required by law through a subpoena or court order. The most annoying thing that’ll happen if you get caught is that your bandwidth might be throttled.
The Copyright Alert System only monitors peer-to-peer traffic from public BitTorrent trackers. That means they’re not looking at private BitTorrent trackers, email attachments, file lockers, or anywhere else. Basically, if you’re not using BitTorrent you have nothing to worry about.
Basically, the Copyright Alert System is meant to teach people about the legality of peer-to-peer downloads. It’s supposed to simply inform users who might not know that they’re doing something wrong. That’s it.
How to Get Around Any Issues with the System
Technically, the Copyright Alert System doesn’t really have any direct legal ramifications, but if you don’t like the idea of strangers watching what you download, it’s easy to subvert. Anonymizing your BitTorrent traffic with a proxy is one way to go, and a virtual private network is arguably even better. A a private BitTorrent tracker is also a good idea. Blocklists like PeerBlock will not keep you safe, so don’t even bother with them. Of course, if you want to ditch BitTorrent completely, Usenet is simple to set up and not tracked by the Copyright Alert System.
If you do get alerts from your ISP and you’re not actually torrenting anything, then it’s probably time to secure your wireless network. It only takes a couple of steps to up the security on your wireless network, and if you’re seriously worried someone’s in your network it’s pretty easy to track them down. You can file for an independent review process to get the alert removed, but it costs $35.