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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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Groovy Violet

    Thanks for writing this. I had no idea all of this was going on since I don't live in the USA anymore. Luckily for me, Switzerland currently allows people to copy, download and distribute music, TV shows, movies, etc. to other people as long as you don't get paid for it. It's considered to be another distribution/promotion system of the market here, and the entertainment industry has to adjust to that new market. I couldn't agree more - develop a new business model, folks.

  • Ben

    So as an Australian I can safely ignore this and still download pirate material then buy the dvd's 3 years later when they finally get released in my country?

  • Genevieve Burgess

    Since most of these laws are now all about targeting the people uploading and the sites hosting the material I'd say you're reasonably safe. Not entirely safe, because it's still illegal, but your risk level is pretty low.

  • Buck Forty

    No consequences? Some people are getting fined in the courts:
    RIANZ spent $250,000 taking infringers to court to win damages of $616.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    That's a system being used in New Zealand, the system I'm writing about here was just put to use in the USA. Our Copyright Alert System right now seems to center around sending uploaders who are caught multiple warnings and requiring them to watch informational material about why piracy is bad before any serious sanctions are considered.

    People have been taken to court by the RIAA for uploading copyrighted content and the RIAA continue to work to take down websites that host torrents, but this system in the USA doesn't seem to have litigation as its end goal.

  • Stephen Nein

    The long, complicated, but just as fun novel version of this essay was written by Cory Doctorow last year, which is called Pirate Cinema.

  • Some Guy

    Does this count for porn? Cause...yeah...

  • Genevieve Burgess

    The Wikipedia article that lists participating studios and organizations doesn't list any studios that produce porn (I even went through the whole list of studios associated with the Independent Film and Television Alliance) so it looks like you're safe to upload any otherwise legal videos of depraved and pornographic acts.

  • Some Guy

    Huzzah! Hey everyone, drinks are on me!

  • e jerry powell

    Isn't this basically the same system that they're using in Europe already?

  • Genevieve Burgess

    It is, but without the teeth. The notorious French version of this law does the same thing, targeting the uploaders, but it's a three strike system and the harshest penalty is losing internet access for up to a year (after a judicial review). They've sent over a million warning letters, but only 14 people had been cut off as of September 2012. Here's another article explaining how that system has worked so far:

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Well, the French system will probably be totally toothless, as well, because the European Court of Human Rights has recently decided that freedom of expression may no be penalized:

    (At least that's what I understood.)

  • e jerry powell

    Yeah. I'm thinking that if the "content creators" were that serious, they might put a little more thought into their methodology, at the very least (and let's not even think about maybe making improvements to their content distribution models). The other side is advancing technologically way faster, which takes up more enforcement time than "content creators" have for actually "creating content."

  • Genevieve Burgess

    I actually thought about writing this as an imagined conversation between the RIAA/MPAA and ISPs that basically went like:
    RIAA/MPAA: Piracy is bad! We want you to turn over the IPs of people uploading copyrighted material so we can sue them!
    ISPs: … um, no. We're not handing over customer information. It'd be bad for business.
    RIAA/MPAA: OK, then, you punish people uploading copyrighted material!
    ISPs: We're not going to monitor our customers like that. It'd be bad for business.
    RIAA/MPAA: How about we tell you who's uploading it and you take away their internet!
    ISPs: You mean kick people paying for higher bandwidth off our service and lose money? Yeah, we're not doing that either.
    RIAA/MPAA: … will you at least send them snitty letters telling them to stop?
    ISPs: Yeah, sure, that sounds good.

  • e jerry powell

    That works too. It's a question of which corporate entities in the world of industry have the bigger dicks, as it were. Interestingly enough, though, Time Warner is on both sides of that argument.

  • Ok, here's an actual question. My friends and I have a closed file sharing network between the 3 of us. None of us share on torrents or pull from torrents. If we send copyrighted files through our network to each other can the RIAA know we are sharing files?

  • Genevieve Burgess

    If you're using a password protected digital drop box or other private file storage system, then they won't know that you're sharing files. The only way for them to find infringing files is through services or networks that make those files available to the public.

  • Robert

    Standing ovation.

  • Jerce

    Allow me to thank Ms. Burgess on behalf of all the readers who will read this, get slightly educated & informed, and then forget to thank Ms. Burgess.

    You have explained things very well and I am a teensy bit smarter for having read this. I am going to share with all my friends and family.

  • Genevieve Burgess

    Thank you for reading! I'm glad to hear that you found it helpful.

  • Okay, but what if you take that hamster, put it in a freezer, thaw it out in a microwave 300 years later and use it to power an electric generator? What then???

  • Zen

    You've gotta put a little sweater on that sucker first; otherwise he's too cold. But then he'll just keep running and running and running.

  • I like when people get my obscure references.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I think then you get an album of Metallica covering Justin Bieber songs.

  • e jerry powell

    You do know how wretched and disgusting that is, right?

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