The "Six Strikes" Copyright Surveillance Machine

The copyright surveillance machine known as the Copyright Alert System (CAS) — or more commonly the "six strikes" program — is an agreement between major media companies and five large Internet service providers (ISPs) to monitor peer-to-peer traffic and introduce penalties to subscribers accused of infringing. ISPs have each implemented the program in different ways, but they share some common features: the first several notifications are supposed to be informational, and later strikes include "mitigation measures" that range from browser-blocking windows to connections throttled down to dial-up speed. The entire campaign is packed with warning signs that it will not go well.

The media companies and the ISPs agreed to terms of the "six strikes" deal in the summer of 2011 — without, of course, input from the actual Internet users it would affect. Just six months later, everybody got a chance to see how Internet users felt about expansive copyright policies, as the blackout protests around the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) sent the unequivocal message to lawmakers that enough is enough. But because the agreement that set up "six strikes" was a private deal, the participants continued its development. After a year and a half of waiting and many missed deadlines, the program went into effect in February 2013.

It's bad enough that the agreement was reached without a hint of transparency, and without giving Internet users a voice. But the problems with the resulting agreement are even worse. The media companies have insisted that running a program like the Copyright Alert System requires monitoring individuals on peer-to-peer networks — a layer of tracking that makes many Internet users uncomfortable.

And beyond the privacy complaints, the program's documentation reflects a skewed understanding of copyright law, which is a real problem for a campaign that purports to be about education. It also forgoes any idea of due process, counting accusations as infringements by default and charging users a $35 up-front fee to appeal. When users appeal, they can select only from a closed set of six options, a gross simplification of copyright law that will lead to people wrongfully accused having little recourse.

We've urged the ISPs and media companies to push the reset button on this copyright surveillance machine altogether, but still it lumbers forward.

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