The "Copyright Alert System" (CAS) - an elaborate combination of surveillance, warnings, and "education" directed at customers of most major U.S. Internet service providers - is poised to launch in the next few weeks, as has been widely reported.
The system applies to peer-to-peer file sharing of digital copyrighted content, and has been designed "to help subscribers understand the significance of protecting copyright in the digital environment, to advise them about the importance of avoiding inadvertent or intentional online distribution of copyrighted content, and to suggest legal ways to obtain digital content," according to an official desrcription on the system's official web site.
Under this system content owners - represented by MPAA and RIAA - will notify a participating ISP when they believe their copyrights are being misused online by a specific computer identified by its IP address, which indicates the connection to the Internet. The ISP will determine which of its subscriber accounts was allocated the specified IP address at the applicable date and time and then send an alert to the subscriber whose account has been identified.
The alert will notify the subscriber that his/her account may have been misused for potentially illegal file sharing, explain and why the action is illegal and a violation of the ISP's policies and provide advice about how to avoid receiving further alerts as well as how to locate film, television and music content legally.
The alerts will be "non-punitive and progressive in nature." For users who repeatedly fail to respond to alerts, the alerts will inform them of steps that will be taken to mitigate the ongoing distribution of copyrighted content through their accounts.
The first alert will most probably be an email send by an ISP to a subscriber, notifying the subscriber that his/her account may have been misused or involved in copyright infringement.
The second alert will be similar to the first one.
If the subscriber's account again appears to have been used for copyright infringement, he/she will receive a third alert, much like the initial alerts. However, this alert will provide a conspicuous mechanism (a click-through pop-up notice, landing page, or similar mechanism) requiring the subscriber to acknowledge receipt of this alert.
If the subscriber's account again appears to have been used for copyright infringement, the subscriber will receive yet a forth alert that again requires the subscriber to acknowledge receipt.
The fifth alert will include the so-called "Mitigation Measures," These may include, for example: temporary reductions of Internet speeds, redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP to discuss the matter or reviews and responds to some educational information about copyright, or other measures that the ISP may deem necessary to help resolve the matter.
If the subscriber's account again appears to have been used for copyright infringement, the ISP will send another alert and will implement a Mitigation Measure as described above.
Upon receiving an alert advising that a "Mitigation Measure" is pending - but before it is imposed, an Internet subscriber may request an independent review if s/he believes that this alert or one or more previous alerts is/are not valid on the basis that the online activity in question was lawful or that the subscriber's account was identified in error.
The Center for Copyright Information (CCI) has formed a partnership with an independent reviewer, the American Arbitration Association (AAA), to help manage the review portion of the Copyright Alerts. If the independent reviewer concludes that the subscriber's assertion is valid, the Mitigation Measure will not be imposed and the list of alerts will be removed from the subscriber's account.
However, Mitch Stoltz, a Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), claims that the "independent" reviewer was a lobbying firm that represented the Recording Industry Association of America in the halls of Congress from 2004 to 2009.
CCI and CAS claim that they are committed to respecting the privacy rights of subscribers, and that no personal information about subscribers will be provided to content owners by ISPs, without applicable legal process and subscribers' express consent - including during an independent review process.
In addition, the Copyright Alert System will not require the ISP to terminate an Internet subscriber's account.
"Big media companies are launching a massive peer-to-peer surveillance scheme to snoop on subscribers," Stoltz said. "Based on the results of that snooping, ISPs will be serving as Hollywood's private enforcement arm, without the checks and balances public enforcement requires. Once a subscriber is accused, she must prove her innocence, without many of the legal defenses she?d have in a courtroom. The "educational" materials posted for subscribers thus far look more like propaganda, slanted towards major entertainment companies' view of copyright. And all of this was set up with the encouragement and endorsement of the U.S. government," he added.
According to CCI, this system will start spying on U.S. subscribers' Internet usage, and sending out warnings before the end of 2012.