How the copyright alert system discourages illegal downloads

Content creators have partnered with major internet service providers to develop the Copyright Alert System, which identifies users who download copyrighted content illegally and imposes certain consequences. Here's how it works and what it might do for intellectual property protection online.

by Bilal Kaiser
updated May 11, 2023 ·  3min read

Intellectual property (IP) protections like patent, copyright, and trademark provide a basis for enforcing your rights. In the online environment, however, it can be difficult to safeguard your IP and to identify and prosecute infringers. This difficulty is perhaps most evident in the motion picture and music industries, which for many years have been engaged in battles to curb the illegal downloading and streaming of music and movies. 

The scope of the problem

Putting an end to the unauthorized distribution of content continues to be an enormous challenge for the motion picture and music industries. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) estimates that illegal downloading of film and television content costs the U.S. economy “$58 billion a year and more than 373,000 jobs.” Others have estimated that there are 20-30 million instances of copyright infringement every day.

Safeguarding the latest blockbuster movie or hit television series online, and preventing its unauthorized distribution on the internet, is no easy feat. Efforts to address the problem have included legislative proposals such as last year's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), both of which failed in Congress. They have also included private legal actions and government efforts to combat IP theft on the internet. These efforts now include a privately funded solution known as the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) and its centerpiece, called the “Copyright Alert System.”

Imagine searching for a popular movie and finding a copy of it available for download on a peer-to-peer network. You download and watch the movie. Soon thereafter, you receive a letter from your internet service provider (ISP) indicating that you illegally downloaded the movie and that there may be consequences if you continue to download content illegally. What may sound like a futuristic online police force has become a reality with the launch of the Copyright Alert System (CAS).

CCI: You have been warned

In response to the growing cost of online IP theft, and to help curb the persistence of illegal downloading and streaming, the MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have partnered with five major ISPs—AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon—to create the CCI. The CCI educates consumers about copyright protection and helps consumers find legal ways to access movies, music, and other digital content. In addition, it implements the CAS—a system through which content owners can notify certain ISPs if their content is being distributed illegally. The ISP then sends its customer a warning to make the customer aware of the unlawful content sharing on their internet account, educate those customers on how to prevent this from happening again and provide legal alternatives for accessing such content.

If copyright infringement continues on a customer's account, the warnings that are sent to customer escalate in severity—hence the moniker “Six Strikes”—with increasing consequences. Depending on the ISP, the consequences may include a temporary reduction in internet speed, a temporary downgrade in internet service, or a redirection to a landing page for a set period of time or until the customer completes an online copyright education program. Of course, if an ISP customer feels the notice was issued in error, there is an independent review process that is set up to take in appeals.

The success of the Copyright Alert System has yet to be determined. Nevertheless, this partnership between content owners and ISPs marks a milestone in the fight against IP theft.

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Bilal Kaiser

About the Author

Bilal Kaiser

Bilal has been writing for LegalZoom since 2008. His areas of interest include entrepreneurship, small business marketin… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.