'Six strikes' explained: US readies new piracy warning system

The Center for Copyright Information (CCI), the US organization tasked with developing a workable system for "punishing infringement of copyright" on the web, has explained how the six strikes program for US internet users will work.

The Copyright Alert System (CAS), which is to be in force by the end of the year, will involve six strikes, but contrary to earlier media reports, it won't be six strikes and you're out: the termination of a repeat offender's internet connection will not be an option. Instead, the system plans to focus on informing, educating and reeducating US internet users who are infringing on copyrighted materials via P2P networks.

As the program rolls out over the next two months, internet service providers (ISPs) will send notices to users when copyright owners believe they have infringed copyright. These will begin as educational alerts, i.e. explaining that what a user has done is potentially illegal and detailing alternative behaviors or methods of accessing online content, followed by acknowledgment alerts that require the recipient to respond.

For continual offenders, these alerts will be followed by mitigation measures which, depending on the ISP, could range from being required to review educational material to a temporary reduction in internet bandwidth.

As a blog post on the organization's website on Thursday explains: "The progressive series of alerts is designed to make consumers aware of activity that has occurred using their Internet accounts, educate them on how they can prevent such activity from happening again (for example, by securing home wireless networks or removing peer-to-peer software), and provide information about the growing number of ways to access digital content legally."

Strikes can be contested

There can be mitigating reasons for copyright infringement -- for example another user hijacking a person's wi-fi -- and so another significant feature of the CAS is the ability for recipients to contest strikes they believe they have been given in error via the American Arbitration Association (AAA).

According to an interview given to ars technica by the program's head, Jill Lesser, it will cost $35 to initiate a review with the money refunded if the AAA finds in the user's favor.

In the same interview, Lesser stressed that the CAS will not terminate a person's internet connection or bring lawsuits on behalf of rights holders.

"If we are right, most consumers hopefully will never get to level five or six," said Lesser. "Rather than continuing to slap people on the wrist, we're going to save our resources and send those alerts to people who will respond. Out of the program means we've tried to educate you and you're back on the bottle, or whatever the analogy is you want to use -- we can't help you."

In other words, further action would be up to the ISP or the rights holder involved.