Internet Service Providers Monitoring Your Illegal Download Activity

By Eric Misterovich

ipod and music and CAS
Image by: Lambert Wolterbeek Muller

Let me begin with one simple fact: Most of us have probably downloaded music at least once in our life. Don’t try and hide it, I understand the circumstances. Music is too expensive, online music stores do not offer everything you want, actual record stores are about as rare as a wooly mammoth, and record companies are flat-out greedy. I get it. At one point in time this was OKAY. Not okay in the sense it was actually legal, but okay because there was no way of really getting caught. Enter the Copyright Alert System (CAS).

Firrst, the DMCA happened and it finally appeared illegal downloading had met its maker. However, technology is like the flu, you beat it in once and it just re-emerges, stronger and harder to detect. The centrally based server formats of the past were quickly replaced with Peer-2-Peer networks, which afforded those pesky Internet “pirates” much more extensive anonymity.

So what did our friends up on Capital Hill do to fight these newer forms of pirating software? Nothing. Lawmaking is a slow process. It does not rapidly evolve through bursts of individual inspiration and innovation. This is how the Copyright Alert System (CAS) came to be. The CAS is a privately developed mechanism meant to alert customers of several Internet Service Providers (ISPs) of their alleged copyright infringement activities. The ISPs will then issue a series of warnings that follow a 6-step graduated response system.

How The CAS Applies To Internet Subscribers In Michigan

1. Five different ISPs have adopted the CAS

  • Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner, and Cablevision
  • Each of these ISPs provides services in Michigan under a variety of different trade names
  • It is pretty much a certainty that, unless you use dial-up service, the CAS is applicable to you

2. The CAS system covers a substantial amount of copyrighted content

  • The RIAA and the MPAA are amongst the organizations that have registered copyrighted work with CAS
  • Thus, the CAS covers essentially all popular music, movies, and television show

3. The CAS system is used strictly for Bit Torrent users at this point in time

  • Bit Torrent is the most commonly performed method of Peer-2-Peer file sharing
  • It is an application where users scour a variety of torrent websites in order to find content to download

4. The CAS system, at this point of time, solely detects infringing activity from uploads

  • When a Bit Torrent user downloads a file it is then used to seed another user’s download of the same content
  • The CAS software acts as an upload angler by fishing out various individual “peers” in the uploader swarm
  • It then matches seeded content with other users fully downloaded content that has already been verified as copyrighted material

How The Copyright Alert System 6-Strike Warning System Works

Depending on your ISP, the specific form of warning may vary. However, each process will roughly be based on an elevated 6-strike system. Here is a broad look into the process:

1. The 1st and 2nd alerts

  • Will come in the form of an email, voicemail, or pop-up
  • ISP customers will be notified that their account has allegedly been connected to copyright infringement
  • It may include an explanation of how to avoid future offenses and direct users to a lawful media content site and you may also be asked to remove the file-sharing content from your computer

2. The 3rd and 4th alerts

  • Will come in the form of an email, voicemail, or pop-up
  • If the behavior continues after the first 2 alerts then the user will be asked to acknowledge receipt of the message and you may be asked to remove the file-sharing content from your computer

3. The 5th and 6th alerts

  • Will come in the form of an email, voicemail, pop-up, or browser-lock
  • The ISP will be permitted to take “mitigation measures” to prevent future infringement

What Mitigation Measure To Expect From Your ISP

Mitigation measures also vary amongst the ISPs since each is free to select whatever method it deems most adequate. Here is breakdown of what each participating ISP had stated it would do in these circumstances:

1. Verizon

  • Verizon customers will get 2 weeks notice before any slowdown occurs
  • If the pirating continues then the customers connection will be capped at dial-up speeds for 2 to 3 days

2. Cablevision

  • Cablevision will completely suspend its infringing customers Internet service for 24 hours
  • This will occur following the 5th and 6th alert, and only if the alerts go unchallenged by customers

3. Time Warner

  • Time Warner Cable customers accused of piracy will receive a series of alerts
  • If these alerts are ignored they will lead to customers experiencing a browser-lock
  • The browser-lock will continue until the customer calls a Time Warner representatives and partakes in an instructional conversation about copyright and legal methods of downloading content

4. Comcast

  • If a Comcast offender continues the unwanted behavior, they will encounter persistent in-browser alerts
  • Removal of these alerts will require a customer to call a Comcast representative in order to discuss copyright issues and legal downloading alternatives

5. AT&T

  • If an accused AT&T customer continues illegally downloading it will demand that the user review copyright education materials on an online portal before they can access other websites
  • This will only occur after the 4th warning

If you fall victim to a mitigation measure then you can appeal the action through a special link provided by your ISP. An arbitrator will then hear the appeal if it meets certain specified requirements. If you would like more information on the appeal process please visit The Center for Copyright Information or contact an attorney.

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