Warning Messages to Illegal Downloaders

In a landmark victory for producers of entertainment media, the Center for Copyright Information (CIS) has announced that most of the major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the United States will begin cooperating with the new Copyright Alert System (CAS). Under the new system, ISPs will begin sending notices to customers who have been identified as people downloading files illegally from various sites on the Internet. The Associated Press, via NBC News, says the move is meant to curb copyright infringement, not punish people, while CNET says the new system will work as a graduated response system with warnings graduating to suspensions if customers don’t stop their illicit activities.

At issue is the practice of people using the Internet to visit file sharing web sites to obtain copies of movies, music or software. Those who create and distribute such media have been fighting for years for a system to be put in place to curb the practice as they say it costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year collectively.

In the announcement, Jill Lesser, director of the CIS, says that the new program is designed to curb the practice of illegal downloading on the Internet and to promote the practice of purchasing such content from legitimate sources, e.g Wal-Mart, the Apple Store, etc. The AP says that each ISP is responsible for putting in place their own system and then for running it, though each will abide by certain guidelines. All will send a message to an offender (after receiving a report from a media producer of an infraction) letting them know that they have been singled out as participating in an illegal downloading activity and encouraging them to instead purchase what they want from a legitimate source. If the activity continues, the ISP has agreed to slow their connection speed, or at some point, after up to six warnings, suspend their service.

Thus far, none of the big ISP’s Comcast, AT&T, e.g. have announced plans to participate in the CAS, but all have privately assented, CIS says, to participating in the program. Thus, it’s not known at this time how far the ISPs will go in dealing with customers suspected of illegal downloading.

Those opposed to the measure, CNET says, have expressed concerns about people being treated as guilty without the burden of proof. There’s also the issue of how customers may be contacted, or not. Most ISPs provide an email address, but very few customers actually use those accounts, thus, they’d never know they’d been warned, leading to surprise service interruptions.