Ok, maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole, but it’s fairly close. Similar to france’s “3-strike” law, as of February 25th, 2013, the US cable providers (AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon) have teamed together with the RIAA and MPAA to create the Copyright Alert System, or CAS for short. With this in place there is now an official way that you can get in trouble, even if you haven’t done anything.
Interesting enough, this isn’t law. Just something that many of the major ISPs and the Music and Movie industry have decided will be best to help “educate” us. In other words, something that you aren’t going to be able to avoid dealing with one way or another.
So what is CAS?
All in all, it’s fairly simple. Boiled down to its basics it is a system that allows the content providers a way to notify users they are infringing on copyright, and if you ignore the warnings punishment for infringing. In fact it’s so simple, the Center for Copyright Information has made a simple video with soft soothing music to explain it all.
However, as you might have already guessed… it’s definitely not that straight forward. Before I get into the merits of the system itself, let me explain it. It varies slightly from company to company, but the basically are pretty much the same at the moment. Here is the “6 strikes” if someone claims you are breaking copyright:
- You receive an email letting you know that you haven’t done something illegal and that you need to stop. This may be accompanied by educational links about securing your wi-fi network, and more informational links.
- Second warning similar to the first but requiring you to acknowledge you have received it either by clicking a link or calling your ISP.
- The third warning again is similar to the first and second but requires you to watch an educational video before you are able to continue onto the internet. This video will override any internet traffic which you must watch to completion before normal webpages will appear.
- The Fourth warning level is basically the same as the third.
- The fifth warning will depend on the ISP. This will be anything from redirecting your webpages to a landing page, throttling of your internet connection (i.e. Verizon will put your internet connection to 256 kbps for 2-3 Days), or downgrading your services to a lower provider tier.
- Strike six is a harsher version of Strike 5.
Seem’s fair enough in principle, if perhaps a bit harsh. If you have done something wrong, in this case downloading illegal content, you get punished. There’s a couple of problems with this system however. The system itself is broken.
The Broken Copyright System
The thing that’s broken in this, is the very first step in this entire process. Before strike 1. It’s the part where the content owners (or supposed owners) get to determine if you have done anything wrong. Typically the RIAA and the MPAA search Peer-to-Peer networks to find any content that is being traded illegally. At this point they request from the ISP who’s was using that address and have them send that holder the CAS warning. This part isn’t anything new. Companies have been sending Copyright Infringement warnings to people since the late 90s. They originally tried to sue people directly but between the costs involved, the bad press over some ridiculous lawsuits that were just plain wrong, and the increased access to the internet to all the households, they decided to shift this to your ISP.
So it’s not actually your ISP that is determining that you are doing anything wrong, but the content providers, even though now it’s the ISP that will be giving you all the warnings. But that doesn’t actually change what’s happening. The same problems that happened in the 90s and the 2000s, will affect this system. Yes you can pay $35 if you respond within 14 days of getting the notice to have your warning reviewed (otherwise you accept that you did indeed violate copyright law), but the problems remain.
The main problem is your Internet Address (or more commonly known as your IP address) is trivial to shift the blame from them to anyone else, with just a little knowledge.
- Open Wireless Networks (public) – There are tons of open internet connections available out there. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (or EFF) has written about how this 6 strikes law will hamper public wi-fi locations such as libraries or business (Starbucks, McDonalds, etc) even though the Center for Copyright Infringement says that it won’t, they will just receive the same punishments and warnings that normal user will receive.
- Open Wireless Networks (private) – But what about those people who aren’t computer savvy, or maybe those that what to have an open wi-fi for friends and family? They are just sitting ducks, and can easily have their internet and record trashed. All you have to do is open up your wi-fi on your computer and see tons of open networks, all available for use.
- At Work - How many people surf the internet at work? I’m guess not all of that is Facebook. Business tends to have huge pipes to the internet. Many Large companies have firewalls that prevent torrenting or file sharing over their internet connection, but many small to mid-sized companies don’t. It because very hard to manage everyone without being over reaching.
- Hacking – Even if you secure your wi-fi network, it’s almost trivial to have most passwords that people use. Many use the default passwords that came with their wireless routers, or use weak encryption that modern computers can’t break into under an hour. At that point someone can use your network without you even realizing it.
- Other options – And this doesn’t even start to answer all the other ways to protect what IP you are using (without dumping it on others). You can use virtual private networks (VPN), Proxies, or even just Anonymizing your BitTorrent traffic. If you wanted to get back at someone you could even spoof their IP and directly get them in trouble (no not telling you how to do this). Nor does this even touch private bit torrent sites, shared servers of private files, or the tried and true method of the “sneaker-net” .
I’d only get in trouble if I did something wrong.
Let’s assume that the above doesn’t apply to you. You have your network secured with a strong proper password. You haven’t been hacked, you aren’t downloading illegal content, and no one you are aware of is either. You’re safe right?
Given the track record of the Music and Movie industry not likely. Remember the ridiculous lawsuits link above? Some of the more high-profile goofs was Sarah Ward 66 year old grandmother with a Mac who was accused of downloading millions of dollars worth of music (including hard-core rap music.)… on a windows only file-sharing program. This was eventually figured to have been a goof somehow when the RIAA obtained the incorrect IP, nothing that she actually ever had happen in her house. The RIAA never apologies, but did eventually remove the lawsuit stating that they were giving her the “benefit of the doubt”.
In late 2005, Gertrude Walton was sued for sharing over 700 songs in early that year. The problem with this? She never let a computer in the house according to her daughter. Another problem? She died in 2004. The RIAA claimed that the problem was on how long it takes to get information on the illegal file sharers. “”Our evidence gathering and our subsequent legal actions all were initiated weeks and even months ago” claimed the RIAA.
Others aren’t as lucky as Sarah or as dead as Getrude. Many never were even given a trial as the cost of court and lawyers was much more than the average person could pay. At one point in 2003, the RIAA also unveiled an “amnesty” program dubbed “Clean Slate”. Basically instead of suing they just sent letters to people they thought “might” be guilty and say that they would sue unless you paid them money. Most settled as court costs fees would have cost more than what the RIAA was asking.
They were forced to stop the threatening letters in 2006, but continued on suing anyone they thought might be guilty. Many were very likely innocent but unable to fight back or have any proof that they weren’t the ones that were guilty. Or more aptly put by a spoke person for the RIAA back in 2003:
“When you go fishing with a driftnet, sometimes you catch a dolphin.”
But getting back on track. Now a days you can’t be wrongly accused surly? We have technology that should prevent that. Not the case. Take these two cases from the content producers themselves. (Yes not just end users get effected by this stuff):
Recently Universal forced a take down using a the copyright law from YouTube. They didn’t own the song. But the systems that are in place (along with CAS) are geared at making it easy for the copyright holder to accuse, rather than try to protect the citizen. it was only with an upswell of support and lawyers that they were able to get it back onto YouTube.
This happens all the time. People get falsely accused of uploading martial onto YouTube. The TWIT network, a podcast and online streaming channel for tech news among other things were commenting about the MegaUpload video that had been released with many artist (which in itself was a copyright lawsuit gone nuts story). To make a long story short, Universal took it down multiple times from YouTube, claiming copyright infringement on a song they didn’t own, on news program that was doing cometary about their overstepping on a copyright… They eventually got it put back up days after the story aired, but for a news programs that’s forever as news happens each day.
What happens after the 6th Strike?
So lets assume you were bad, that no one was using your network that you weren’t aware of and you indeed did over and over download actual copyrighted material that you had no creative control over. What happens then?
Nothing. Well perhaps better to say “Nothing”.
It’s possible (although very, very unclear)
Already talked about Verizon’s solution for 5/6th strike (the dial-up modem speeds), and the assumption that would continue over and over. There are some leaked AT&T documents that show that they will be blocking most of the internet until their customers finish a copyright course (which of course will probably require a fee). In fact AT&T doesn’t have to wait till the 6th warning according to the leaked documents.
“After the fifth alert, the content owner may pursue legal action against the customer, and may seek a court order requiring AT&T to turn over personal information to assist the litigation,”
But “Nothing” is only limited to the ISPs. The MPAA and RIAA may obtain the IP-addresses of any repeat infringers, so they can take “legal actions”. The ISPs have said they won’t voluntarily share this information (names and IPs), however the courts can use this repeat offending issue. to get a court order to release this information.
Will this work?
The biggest question is if it will even make any difference. I’ve already shown that it’s easy to et around this for those that know how, and very easy to be falsely accused. And much like most “big” system, extremely easy to mistake the system and end up admitting you broke the law when you may never had done anything wrong.
And that’s ignoring that most people (outside the ISPs, RIAA, and MPAA) say that it’s a bad idea. Law professors have looked at it and the best they can come up with in its favor is that “less draconian sanctions than its French and Irish counterparts.”
To me this seems just more of the same. This is the same game that the movie and music industry has been playing at, just this time doing it via the ISPs directly. Just as before this isn’t likely to stop the majority of file sharing, but instead cause problems for people who are unaware that it’s all too easy for an innocent people to be found guilty without them even aware anything is going on at all.