Hope you downloaded enough episodes of Game of Thrones Sunday night to last you the rest of your life; starting this week, the five major internet service providers (AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable) have free rein to harass you with notices, block you from visiting certain websites, and even slow down your Internet speed if you are found (or suspected) to participate in illegal downloading.
The arrangement comes with the implementation of the U.S.'s nationwide Copyright Alert System, first proposed in 2011. Think of it as D.A.R.E. for illegal files.
Here's how it works:
Content owners like the RIAA (for music) and MPAA (for movies) will monitor peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing sites like BitTorrent for their own content. Once these content owners notice a copy of, say, Bridesmaids available for illegal download, the owner will collect the IP addresses of users sharing the file (you) and tattle on you to your internet service provider.
Your service provider (ahem, Time Warner), will then issue an alert to you to let you know they know you're in violation of copyright laws. They will repeat this alert process up to six times as you are repeatedly flagged for violations because you love illegal downloads.
The alerts will start as innocuous little messages (Good morning! Did you know that you can purchase Bridesmaids legally via iTunes?) and grow increasingly severe as you are repeatedly flagged for infractions. By the time the fifth and six alerts roll around, at least one service provider has vowed to reduce your connection speed to something just a little faster than dial-up as punishment. It will be like you are watching your pirated Downton Abbey in 1921, because the service will be so slow.
(Most service providers have already had some sort of illegal download user-alert system in place for years; the difference is that now their efforts are being marketed as a coordinated anti-piracy campaign and receiving a lot of publicity.)
Am I going to get arrested?
No, probably not. The Center for Copyright Information, which runs the CAS, says that no personal information, including the identity of the subscriber, will be shared with the content owners. However, according to documents obtained by TorrentFreak, service providers will share personal information if "required to do so by law"; i.e. the content owners, having decided to pursue litigation against offenders, ask the court for a subpoena. At the moment, though, this program seems designed more to scare people than sue people.
Is my internet going to get cut off forever?
So what exactly is the alert process?
The six-step alert process will vary (widely) between providers, but the general format is a three-tiered notification system. The first couple times you're flagged for file sharing, your provider will provide you with a little notice informing you that some illegal activity has been detected on your Internet connection, and did you know that there are legal ways to acquire your favorite movies and TV shows? (Obviously. That's why you were acquiring them illegally in the first place.) This phase of the alert is mostly a formality, designed to scare away the very young and/or animals.
Next comes "acknowledgement." After two warnings, Verizon will redirect you to a website where you'll have to acknowledge receiving the alerts and watch a brief video about copyright infringement. After four warnings, Time Warner Cable will lock down your browser until you call a number and agree to stop downloading files illegally.
The final level is the most serious: around the fifth or sixth warning, providers have the option to temporarily (for two or three days) slow your internet speed down to a snail's pace. Verizon will reportedly let you choose whether to slow your internet immediately or in 14 days. AT&T will require customers to complete an "online education tutorial on copyright." Comcast, because it's from Philly and Philly don't give no damns, will only require repeat offenders to watch a boring video as its Ultimate Consequence.
What happens after I get six warnings?
Here's the crazy part — under this program — nothing. Nothing happens at all. Jill Lesser, executive director of the CCI, said in an interview earlier this month that, after you receive six alerts, you won't receive anymore:
We hope that by the time people get to alerts number five or six, they will stop. Once they've been mitigated, they've received several alerts, we're just not gonna send them any more alerts because they're not the kind of customer that we're going to reach with this program.
Of course, you can still get sued.
Can I protest an alert if I receive one?
Yes. The appeals process requires a $35 fee that is waived if the person filing it can prove financial hardship. If the appeal is successful, the fee is refunded. If the appeal is unsuccessful, you got caught AND you paid $35 for the CCI to say "Yep, we caught you."
What happens if I get scared after my first alert and stop downloading?
You are the system's ideal customer. You will live the rest of your life in fear, but the alerts will stop. Have fun downloading hot tracks from the public domain.
Are there ways to avoid getting alerts in the first place?
Of course there are! The method the CCI is pushing, which will no doubt prove popular with millionaires and billionaires, is to just procure all your content legally.
Apart from that, program only targets P2P sharing sites, so you can skate around this whole hoopla by using direct-download or streaming sites. If you want to get fancier and more illegal, lots of people better at computers than you are publishing long lists of acronym-heavy advice to avoid getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar (of intangible files).
Will this program stop people from torrenting?
Absolutely not. Lesser admits that it will probably have little affect on "large scale pirates," and is instead designed to deter the "casual infringer." It will, however, be annoying.
[Image by Jim Cooke/source photo from Shutterstock]