It's been a long time coming, but the copyright surveillance machine known as the Copyright Alert System (CAS) is finally launching. CAS is an agreement between Big Content and large Internet Service Providers to monitor peer to peer networks for copyright infringement and target subscribers who are alleged to infringe-via everything from from "educational" alerts to throttling Internet speeds.
As part of the launch, the Center for Copyright Information, which administers the program, has revamped its website. The website is supposed to help educate subscribers about the system and copyright. Unfortunately, it's chock full of warning signs that this whole campaign is not going to go well.
For example, on the process for targeting subscribers, the site explains that:
"Before each Alert is sent, a rigorous process ensures the content identified is definitely protected by copyright and that the notice is forwarded to the right Subscriber."
Just because content is copyrighted doesn't mean sharing it is illegal. It would be better to have a rigorous process that ensures the use identified is actually infringing. It would be even better to have a process that was vetted by a truly independent entity, and public review of the full results.
And then there are these nuggets:
"While CCI encourages all consumers to secure their home networks, it is especially important for consumers who have received a Copyright Alert."
In other words, if you've received a notice, you've better lock down your network, and fast. As we've explained, this seems designed to undermine the open Wi-Fi movement, even though open wireless is widely recognized to be tremendously beneficial to the public.
"Subscribers are responsible for making sure their Internet account is not used for copyright infringement."
Not so-at least not under copyright law, unless additional conditions are met. We don't all have to sign up to be copyright police, though if your ISP is part of the deal-AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon-you've signed up to be policed.
Then there's the generally maximalist approach to copyright. For example, while we were able to find at least a nod to fair use in CCI's materials, they are also replete with statements like this (from the section on what students and teens need to know):
"Whenever you create something like a poem, a story or a song, you own it - and no one else can use it without your permission."
Not so: thanks to the fair use doctrine, others can in fact use the works you create in a variety of ways. That's how we help ensure copyright fosters, rather than hinders, new creativity and innovation.
Equally worrisome: the CCI site directs users to the Copyright Alliance to learn more about the history of copyright. The Copyright Alliance is hardly a neutral "resource"-it was a leader in the battle to pass SOPA and remains a staunch advocate of copyright maximalism.
Finally, CCI is promising to partner with iKeepSafe to develop a copyright curriculum for California public schools. It will be called: "Be a Creator: the Value of Copyright." Based on what we've seen so far, that curriculum will do little to help kids understand the copyright balance. Instead, it is going to teach kids that creative works are "stuff" that can be owned and that that you must always check before using that "stuff."
Not to toot our own horn, but EFF has developed a copyright curriculum that explains what copyright law permits as well as what it forbids and, we hope, encourages students to think critically about creativity, innovation and culture. And it's CC-licensed, so the CCI should feel free to save itself some time and money by using it.
In the meantime, we are disappointed if not surprised by the tenor of the CCI's approach to surveillance and education. Watch this space for more on the CAS and what you can do to challenge it.