copyright question Dear Doc:

I hear that soon, many Internet users will start getting warning notices if they illegally share copyrighted materials. Is this true? What happens if I get, say, 6 of these? How do they know?


Dear Addict:

The “Doc” has been watching this gathering storm for some time now.  The “Copyright Alert System” is not a loud tone played on the radio – it’s a big brother kind of system that involves AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner, Comcast and Cablevision – the “Big 5” Internet service providers (ISPs). They have been working with the RIAA and MPAA (which collectively help to police music and movie rights) and have worried, since Napster was a little itty bitty nuisance, that their content was getting ripped off on the Internet.

As they have explained what they intend to do, it amounts to watching all of the files that are being shared on the Net, and automatically sending nasty notes to anyone sharing what they believe is copyright-protected content.  As they have said, “Initial alerts are merely educational, letting the user know that unauthorized content sharing was detected on their Internet account.”

There are two additional “alert levels” for repeat sharers: an “acknowledgement” that requires the recipient to fill out a form, and a “mitigation” which means that the user’s connection speed may be reduced unless he watches an informative video about piracy. A notice may be appealed if a user feels that it was sent in error, but filing that appeal costs $35.

You can find out a lot about how this all works by watching the video below.

Of course, it’s not right to infringe copyrights, and owners of content have every right to protect their property.  It remains to be seen whether their big brother programs are accurate, or also sweep in unrelated files with similar names (maybe I just want to call my home video of my Carnival Cruise “Titanic”), fair uses such as student projects, and the like. Time will tell, but it will cost $35.

–Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.