The Copyright Alert System at One

Published May 29, 2014

The Copyright Alert System (CAS) has been operating for nearly a year now, and an analysis of its first ten months in action has been released.  The CAS is a copyright infringement take down regime that did not require Congressional action, but rather relied on stake holders coming together to address challenges.

According to the Center for Copyright Information, which coordinates the System, the “Copyright Alerts are part of a progressive educational system to help subscribers understand the significance of protecting copyright in the digital environment, to advise them about the importance of avoiding inadvertent or intentional online distribution of copyrighted content, and to suggest legal ways to obtain digital content. These alerts will be similar to current credit card fraud alerts.”

The system employs a “six strikes” approach, so infringers can receive up to six notifications designed to educate and deter consumers from downloading or posting content that belongs to someone else. This system directly takes on the challenge of how potential copyright infringers should be handled.
Today the Center for Copyright Information released a report discussing the data collected so far, which shows that 1.3 million alerts were sent to 722,820 customer accounts. Over 70% of these alerts were in the initial educational stages.  A mere 3%, only 37,000 accounts, of the alerts were the sixth notice.
An even better hallmark of initial success, “…only 265 challenges were filed under an independent review process that is managed by the American Arbitration Association and there was not one single case in which an invalid notice – or false positive – was identified.  Indeed there were only 47 successful challenges in 2013, and the vast majority of those were based on an “unauthorized use of account” defense, indicating that the account holder had made a satisfactory case that someone other than the account holder or a known (authorized) person was using the account in question to engage in impermissible P2P filing sharing of copyrighted content.”
The takeaway?  The first ten months have provided encouraging data that this system could be a tool to effect change.  But to make sweeping declarations would be premature.  Over the next many months, as more data is accumulated, more will be learned about the success of the system, not least of which will be whether the educational aspect is making a difference in the broader attitude about piracy.
Whether the solution is perfect or not, this result is better than a years-long legislative battle, which may fail to reach any sort of resolution.  No law will ever address every issue, so private stakeholders should be encouraged, and should want, to craft infrastructure that solves the problems they perceive.
The CAS solution was reached because responsible, serious parties voluntarily engaged in dialogue.  More success will come as all parties continue understand that they cannot stand on their own, that in fact an economically thriving digital ecosystem requires good faith cooperation, within the bounds of the law, and with an eye towards what is best for the broader ecosystem.  In other words, the distributed nature of the Internet is a fundamental part of its design, and no one entity, whether private sector or government, can control it so stakeholder cooperation is imperative for the success of all.
As the CAS system matures strengths and weaknesses will be revealed, where the educational system has achieved successes and where challenges remain will come to light. For now though we can pronounce it a good start.