Will the Copyright Alert System Work?
So the long-heralded Copyright Alert System (sometimes incorrectly referred to as the “six strikes program”) has finally launched in the US. If you don’t know what this means, essentially five of the major Internet Service Providers in the US have agreed to allow monitoring of users’ Internet connections in search of copyright infringing material. The first two times you are caught downloading illegal content you will get educational alerts (letting you know what you did was illegal), the second two times you will get ascknowledgement alerts (“acknowledge that you did this and that it was illegal”), and the third two times (“strikes” five and six) some minor penalties will be imposed upon you to mitigate your behavior. The nature of these penalties is unclear, but an example might be lowering the speed of your connection. At this time, there are no plans for any warnings after the sixth nor any greater penalty.
I think this is a fascinating contrast to HADOPI, the “three strikes law” in France whereby users could be disconnected from the Internet for up to one month after their third strike. HADOPI was imposed by the government, whereas the Copyright Alert System is actually a voluntary cooperation between the ISP’s. And while HADOPI’s final penalty is fairly severe, the penalties under the Copyright Alert System are less so and then after 6 infractions, at least at this point it looks like there are no more penalties at all.
These two points make the Copyright Alert System fascinating to a researcher like me. My prior research shows that HADOPI had a significant positive impact on digital music sales when it made headlines in France (even before warnings started going out). But, even though the impact occurred before any penalties were applied, everyone knew the penalties were severe. In the case of Copyright Alert System, people may be less worried about the penalties, less convinced that they will actually be applied (since it’s not a law), or even anxious to get to strike 7 and beyond where there may not be penalties.
On the other hand, perhaps some consumers will see the warnings (something they haven’t been subjected to before) and be dissuaded by them. I can certainly imagine a type of consumer for which this could be true (probably the same type of consumer who turned to legal channels in France after hearing about HADOPI). Forbes has an article about the alert system with a quote from the editor-in-chief of torrentfreak.com, where he basically says that he doesn’t think this program is actually bad for consumers. There’s something to learn from that – this program seems to be viewed as relatively more benign than HADOPI. So it will be really interesting to see if it can have a serious impact. I’d imagine that we might be able to measure any impact using similar methods we used for HADOPI, although I also have another potential idea for how to measure the impact if i can get some anonymous aggregated data from the ISP’s. I think it’s important to figure out if relatively benign, voluntary responses like this can work and how they compare to legal responses such as HADOPI or shutting down sites like Megaupload.