The entertainment's industry new piracy warnings to computer users started flowing Monday as the industry and internet service providers finally launched their long-promised Copyright Alert System.
Announced in 2011 and originally set to begin by the end of 2012, the alert system is an effort by the movie, TV and recording industries and major cable providers to move much more swiftly to issue warnings whenever copyright owners discover that an account is being used to access or download pirated content.
The system was created by the Center for Copyright Information, which includes the six major studios, record labels such as Warner and EMI and internet giants such as Time Warner Cable, Verizon, AT&T and Cablevision. Along with the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Independent Film and Television Alliance are also involved.
The alerts will go out automatically when internet service providers are notified that piracy has occurred -- hopefully as soon as a day after the content is accessed.
In the new system, users will be directed to a landing page after receiving five to six warnings. That page will require them to contact their internet providers or respond to some educational materials.
Before their Internet access is restricted, users do have the option of requesting an independent review, at a cost of $35.
The center describes the notices as "educational." Illegal down loaders will get up to six notices urging them to switch to legal content sources. If they don't respond, they could find themselves facing slowed internet connections and possibly other sanctions.
There does have to be evidence that the user actually accessed pirated content; just going to a pirate site would not cause sanctions. Just visiting PirateBay.com, for example, doesn't prove they are accessing a movie that Disney owns.
One way the content providers will recognize illegal downloading is that all files have numbers. A YouTube file, for example, has a unique ID, and if Disney recognizes an ID being illegally downloading, it can submit a claim.
The warnings are an alternative to the court enforcement that the MPAA and content providers had once sought to implement. That procedure, however, proved to be fraught with problems. For example: It would be difficult to determine exactly what court would have jurisdiction over such cases, and court notices would take time to process.
Under the alert system, notice of a violation -- along with an educational message -- will be immediate.
Though content owners aren't ruling out legal actions, "Content owners and ISPs believe a voluntary system that speaks to consumer is the best way to fight piracy," Jill Lesser, the center's executive director, told TheWrap. They are hopeful that the voluntary system will be more efficient and a less expensive way to stop copyright piracy, she said.
Lesser said that the test of the alerts will be whether copyright violations decrease and how many challenges are won by consumers who complain that they were wrongfully notified.
Consumer groups on Monday had some mixed reaction to the rollout.
Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said she is worried both that the "education" the center provides would offer consumers an arbitrary view of copyright with little information on fair use.
She also said she is concerned ISPs could set arbitrary rules for access and move more swiftly to impose sanctions.
"At least when you go to court, there is a question of due process," she told TheWrap. "They have created their own private law system here where consumers don't have the protection normally afforded the accused. It's really quite dangerous."
Consumers could end up getting notices for having open wireless systems that in court would be legal, she said.
Another consumer group concerned about copyright issues, Public Knowledge, has signed on to the system.
"The Copyright Alert System will be a significant test of whether a voluntary copyright-enforcement system can work while at the same time protecting the rights of Internet users, Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn, who is on the Center's advisory board, said in a statement. "The creators of the system have taken steps to build in consumer protections and fair process to the system, and it is my hope that it will succeed."
Sohn said that critical to the program's success is transparency about information about the notices and the number successfully challenged.
"I will continue to use my role on the Advisory Board to ensure that internet users' rights are protected; that the process provided under the CAS is robust and accessible; and that the CAS operates transparently and with public input," she said.