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The "Six Strikes" Copyright Surveillance Machine

The "Six Strikes" Copyright Surveillance Machine

As of January 27, 2017, the Copyright Alert System (CAS) is retired. Read more in our deeplinks post about the program's end here. You can learn about other private agreements that aim to regulate how you use the Internet on our page on Shadow Regulation.

The copyright surveillance machine known as the Copyright Alert System (CAS) — or more commonly the "six strikes" program — was 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 each implemented the program in different ways, but they shared some common features: the first several notifications were supposed to be informational, and later strikes included "mitigation measures" that ranged from browser-blocking windows to connections throttled down to dial-up speed. The entire campaign was packed with warning signs that it would 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 were 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 reflected a skewed understanding of copyright law, which is a real problem for a campaign that purports to be about education. It also forwent any idea of due process, counting accusations as infringements by default and charging users a $35 up-front fee to appeal. When users appealed, they could select only from a closed set of six options, a gross simplification of copyright law that can lead to people wrongfully accused having little recourse.

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

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