The Copyright Alert System was conceived all the way back in 2011 as a new way to deal with seemingly unstoppable online piracy. It finally goes into effect today, and it will impact a huge portion of US Internet users. Sounds scary, but what is it, exactly? And what does it mean for you?
The Internet is a huge problem for copyright holders. Their businesses are dying, and really, why would anybody bother to pay for stuff when it is so easy to get it for free on BitTorrent. So far, the rights holders have tried everything from suing customers to trolling Google to stop piracy, and it has all failed. This might be their last best hope at shutting down piracy—or at least better containing it.
As designed, the participating internet service providers—AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon—don't directly monitor your online behavior under the Copyright Alert System. Instead, big media lobbying groups like the RIAA and MPAA ("content partners") keep an eye on P2P file-sharing networks, identify users who are being naughty, and then pass that information on to the ISPs.
After verifying rights holder claims, the ISPs respond differently depending on how many times a user has been busted sharing illegal stuff. The first time you'll get a warning, the second time, you might be required to call your ISP, and measures could go as far as throttling your connection speeds. The information about how the system works is hazy because it varies from ISP to ISP.
It's only really a five strike system, and the "strikes" aren't really strikes because if you get that far, your ISP won't terminate your account or anything. You're also unlikely to get sued at any point in the process, although according to leaked documents, legal action isn't off the table.
The idea is to inform users that they're doing something wrong—in case they thought it was legal—to give them ample time to correct their behavior and learn about legal ways to acquire what they want before something crazy like a lawsuit happens. Importantly, the ISPs won't give up any information about the individuals fingered with copyright alerts unless required to do so by subpoena or other court order.
This all sounds great in theory—and we're big supporters of anything that gets people sued less—but we'll have to wait and see if this actually does any good. It's not like anything else has.