Six strikes and you’re out! Okay, admittedly that doesn’t sound like an immediate threat nor even a particularly frightening proposition which could be why major media outlets haven’t exactly jumping all over this. Then again, it could simply be the mention of “copyright”…a word with the ability to cure insomnia in a single sitting. Don’t let that fool you! As a social media consulting agency, copyright is both friend and foe of small business owners and entrepreneur’s across the nation. The new Copyright Alert System is not only big news but because of the long lead time and stealth nature of the release, it’s likely to become even more problematic than anticipated….eventually. In fact, early evidence supports the idea that not only will the Copyright Alert System have a lot of (long term) impact but chances are very high that you or someone you know is already breaking the law. Keep reading to find out how to minimize business risk, protect your assets and make sure your friends and family (or even yourself) don’t face major embarrassment.
What is the Copyright Alert System?
Over the past several years there have been numerous proposals designed to crack down on online copyright infringement. A few have passed but most have been shot down due to the inability to fully track and enforce the provisions associated with each proposal. However, one rather major one has finally made itself past the theoretical stage and into the public arena with the full support, backing and enforcement of major stakeholders such as Hollywood, police and government.
So, what does the Copyright Alert System actually do and how will it work? Well, according to the Center for Copyright Information, the system went live on February 25th, 2013 although it will take some time before most people become aware of it. Why? Because the CAS is working with all major Internet Service Providers (and by default, their subsidiaries) including AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon to “monitor and collect IP addresses of computers apparently downloading and sharing copyrighted content illegally”. These individual users or business entities will be flagged creating an alert which is then sent to the Internet provider . Initial infractions will be given a written warning, subsequent warnings may require participation in an “educational course” (Hint – this could be a good business idea for the right provider!) who will issue a warning or notification. Each infringement will be given a more severe warning until your entire Internet connection is slowed down (wayyyyy down) or eventually even blocked.
Who Will Be Impacted?
Who is likely to be impacted by the new Copyright Alert System? Well, the numbers may be much larger than most people are willing to admit. Obviously a lot of teens (and adults) eagerly download the latest movies, games and music from all so willing sites like BitTorrent (with an estimated 150 million users). Perhaps more surprisingly…and a bit ironic…a report on Torrent Freak found that FBI employees were downloading pirated movies and TV shows. Perhaps in an effort to do a bit of homework on the entire experience? Whatever the reason, the implications are clear…a lot of people are likely to find their online media usage severely restricted or face an escalating number of restrictions.
The Benefits of the Copyright Alert System
Of course, there are some very real benefits associated with the new Copyright Alert System especially for those that own or produce their own original content. Hollywood and music producers have long bemoaned the loss of revenue related to illegal copyright infringement, free downloads and peer-to-peer sharing systems. Unfortunately, small to mid-sized copyright holders are unlikely to find much relief in the new provisions which are geared toward the needs of mega sized media moguls.
Not a Fail-Safe System
In addition to the lack of provisions and protections for small and mid-sized copyright holders, the other glaring problem with the Copyright Alert System is the ability to identify individual infringement patterns. Yes, maybe a specific computer is associated with illegal downloads but who is using the computer and when? People can hide IP addresses, others may not even be aware of the illegal usage especially parents and employers. In fact, IP addresses tend to show who is paying the bills on the account not the actual user, leaving a lot of wiggle room when it comes to holding the actual perpetuator responsible. And what about wireless networks? Right now, it’s anyone’s guess. Last but not least, the flagging could be flat out wrong. According to the Copyright Alert System, if someone believes they have been wrongly flagged they can challenge it…for a $35 filing fee. Clearly creating an inverse incentive toward erring in the wrong direction.
How to Avoid Problems
Of course, most business owners will simply want to avoid any type of problem in the first place. The good news is that it is relatively simple to do so at least during the first phase of the newly released provisions.
1. Don’t upload illegal content. Make sure uploaded content is either licensed for use or original. According to the CAS, uploads are the initial point of scrutiny.
2. Restrict your P2P/other file sharing programs. Make sure you know who is uploading what especially if using file sharing programs.
3. Consider implementing a VPN (virtual private network) if file sharing is a much used or needed part of your business.