The Copyright Alert System: A Grand Exercise in Stupidity and Futility
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The Copyright Alert System: A Grand Exercise in Stupidity and Futility

By Genevieve Burgess | Think Pieces | March 1, 2013 | Comments ()


Last week a new Copyright Alert System was launched in an effort to stop the flood of copyrighted material flowing around the web like sh*t through so many goose-tubes. There's been a lot of words written about this, and I'll link to a few of the more helpful articles that I can find so that anyone who wants to educate themselves can do so. For those of you who are lazy, here's a cheat sheet:

What is the Copyright Alert System?

It is a highly convoluted system aimed at targeting people who upload copyrighted works to peer to peer networks. Content creators (or, lets be realistic, underpaid employees of the corporations that hold the copyrights of content creators) scour peer to peer networks for copyrighted content. Once they find the content, they confirm they own the copyright in the work, and then are provided with the IP (Internet Protocol) address of the person who shared the content. That IP address leads them to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) who is then given the IP address and told that the owner of that address is sharing copyrighted material. The ISP then warns the person with that IP address that they are receiving their first of SIX warnings.

Can you explain that using a mildly amusing metaphor?

Absolutely! Ok, so lets say you have a hamster (you, in this case, are the creator of copyrighted material). You come home one day to find your hamster has been bitten and there is black fur around the hamster's cage. Now, you don't know for sure whose pet attacked your hamster, but you know it's an animal with black fur. So you go tell everyone you know who has a pet with black fur that their pet may have attacked your hamster. It's then the responsibility of the owners of the pet to discern which pet did the attacking and warn them not to do it again. Then again, it could be a wild animal that no one can identify. Who knows.

That sounds dumb.

That's because it is dumb. There's like a million ways around this, which I'm not going to tell you because I dislike encouraging piracy but I'm sure anyone who has spent ten minutes on the internet can figure out ways to 1. spoof their IP address 2. Use open wifi networks to disguise their IP address or 3. use certain recently created sites that encrypt material you upload so it can't be identified as copyrighted works. Even if you can't figure out any of those things, you get six strikes so you'd have to be terminally dumb to get to strike six.

What happens at strike six?

No one knows. The actual punishments are left up to the ISPs and most of the material I've found boils down to informing you that you may be infringing, making you watch or listen to material about how bad piracy is, and possibly throttling or putting a cap on your bandwidth. As of right now, account termination is not being listed as a penalty so, you know, not that scary.

I have not spent ten minutes on the internet and this is literally the first thing I've ever read. How do I keep the internet police from arresting me?

Use a reasonably difficult password with your wifi network and hope that the people you love and trust enough to give the password to aren't downloading infringing material. If they are, change the password and refuse to give it back to them unless they stop. But again, see above re: no real consequences.

Down with copyright! Damn the man!

Yeah, I'm not on your side either. The Copyright Alert System is a grand exercise in stupidity and futility, but copyright does have a place in the digital era. I do believe that it's in artists' best interests to relax a bit on copyright control, because my head hurts just thinking about all the money Baauer has made in the last few weeks thanks to all those "Harlem Shake" videos that he did not lift a finger to make. Still, the uproar over the idea that Instagram would start selling users' photos or the rumor about Facebook stealing content from profiles shows that your average individual expects a certain level of copyright protection for what they post online, even if that's not what they call it. Copyright law certainly has not evolved with the times and a lot of it has been heavily influenced by corporations rather than actual creators, but the concept that you get some say in how the work that you created is distributed or exploited is not extraordinary.

I'm feeling exceptionally ambitious and/or have actual work to ignore. Where can I learn more about the Copyright Alert System?

Starting on the very pro-CAS end of the spectrum, here is the Center for Copyright Information's page on the issue. On the basically anti-CAS end of the spectrum we have the Electronic Frontier Foundation's FAQ. And for those of you too lazy to do your own Googling, here are the participants in the CAS, both rights owners and ISPs provided by my favorite and yours, Wikipedia.

Can I ask you some more questions about copyright?

Only if you want to lose a couple hours of your life. Seriously. I can talk about this shit ALL DAY. But yes, if you have questions, please ask and I will do my best to answer them.

Genevieve Burgess does not approve of any of this ridiculousness.

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