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The Copyright Alert System Launches At Last

After an unanticipated delay stemming from the carnage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Center for Copyright Information’s “Copyright Alert System” (CAS) is kicking off this week, according to a blog post published today by the CCI’s Jill Lesser.

“Over the course of the next several days our participating ISPs will begin rolling out the system,” Lesser writes. “Practically speaking, this means our content partners will begin sending notices of alleged P2P copyright infringement to ISPs, and the ISPs will begin forwarding those notices in the form of Copyright Alerts to consumers.”

Ever since it was first proposed, reactions to the CAS have been mixed, with skepticism about the system coming from both those who favor strict copyright enforcement — who argue that the measure doesn’t have enough teeth — and advocates of relaxing intellectual property law, who see the monitoring component of the CAS as invasive of privacy and who fear that the program will chill free speech and the freedom of expression online.

I’m on the fence about the CAS, myself. I’m not sure it will have a significant impact where online piracy is concerned, in part because it fails to reach a lot of the most problematic infringing behavior of web users (the system reportedly only looks for users seeding torrents with copyrighted material, not those who only download, and not those who obtain their pirated materials from sources other than torrents) and in part because it is fairly easily circumvented.

I’m inclined to withhold judgment, however, and hope that I’m wrong. Perhaps the prospect of being shamed by one’s ISP will be enough to alter the behavior of some consumers, or maybe having one’s bandwidth throttled will prove sufficiently annoying that many ‘casual pirates’ will change their ways in order to avoid feeling like it’s 1997 all over again…. but I’m not optimistic.

Here’s hoping that to most web users the initials ‘VPN’ are even more unfamiliar than the idea of paying for one’s entertainment.