The 6 Likely Impact of Six Strikes

Center Copyright Information LogoBack in 2011, a group of major U.S. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and copyright stakeholders announced the creation of the Copyright Alert System (CAS). The system, which was to be managed by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), would send alerts to those suspected of infringing copyright via peer-to-peer file sharing networks. If enough of those alerts are accumulated, the ISPs can take action, at the ISPs discretion, that can involve forcing the user to watch a copyright video have their bandwidth throttled for a period of time.

Though the system offers more “strikes” and is nowhere near as punitive as similar approaches in other countries, including New Zealand and France, the CAS has still been controversial.

However, the system also hadn’t officially launched. Delays due to technical and other issues caused the system to have many false starts over the past year and a half but, according to the CCI site, it is fromally launching today.

So what will the impact of this system be? Truth be told, it’s tough to say. This system is very unlike its peers across the world and the U.S. audience is a different demographic. However, by looking at the system and the impacts that similar systems have had, we can make at least a few predictions.

On that note, here are a few of my predictions for the now-launching Copyright Alert System.

1. Piracy Rates Will Go Down

France’s HADOPI is the first law of this style to have been implemented, having been passed in late 2009. It’s also the one we have the best data on as a result.

The most recent report on HADOPI’s effectiveness was pretty clear in showing a drop in the amount of peer-to-peer piracy and also showed that there wasn’t a mass exodus to other forms of piracy, such as streaming or direct download.

Piracy, most likely, will go down some due to the system. Some open Wifis will close, people who perhaps weren’t aware they were infringing will stop and some will simply give up after realizing that their activity can be tracked.

However, this effect may take some time as, within the first few months of the launch of HADOPI, piracy rates actually went up.

The CAS won’t stop the dedicated pirates and no one is claiming it will. This system is aimed at the low-hanging fruit that might become legitimate customers.

2. Sales, However, Will Be More Dubious

Around the same time as the last Hadopi report, it was also announced that music sales had dropped by over 11% and video sales had dropped by almost 3%.

While there are many causes for such a decline, including possibly the shift to legitimate digital alternatives (the above study only looked at physical music sales and noted that digital music grew by a quarter) and other economic factors, but it’s clear that there was no tidal wave of legitimate customers waiting once they stopped pirating.

In short, don’t expect a tidal wave of new revenue after the system starts working.

3. Few Will Get to Strike Six

Despite fears of widespread people having their bandwidth throttled, if the HADOPI system is any indication, almost none will even receive even a second warning letter.

Earlier this year, HADOPI released its statistics and revealed that, while it had sent 1.25 million first warnings, it only sent 100,000 second warnings and 340 third warnings, which is as far as the French system goes.

Under the U.S. model, most people would have three more strikes.

Most people stop the behavior that got them caught after the first notice. Whether they switch to using a proxy, find a different way to pirate or just stop illegally downloading content, few get a second notice.

That seems likely to be the case in the U.S. Though the less punitive approach may require more warnings to change behavior, it still seems likely that few will make it all the way to the end of the long road.

4. Mistakes Will be Made and Confusion Will Happen

Though the system does seem to be designed to reduce mistakes and confusion, it’s inevitable that it will have some problems, as the first cases in the New Zealand three strikes law have shown.

There will be problems with open wifi connections, including those intentionally and unintentionally left open, with people not understanding the alerts and roommates/housemmates that aren’t on the account but are the ones doing the infringement.

Though the system is designed to reduce that confusion as well as mistakes, expect both to happen though they will, in the end, likely only involve a small number of the cases (that will receive a great deal of press coverage).

5. Little Movement to VPNs, Proxies, etc.

Though providers of virtual private networking (VPN) services, proxies and other tools for skirting such enforcement make huge marketing pushes when systems like the CAS are implemented, it doesn’t always result in a tidal wave of new customers.

Though such tools can help avoid detection and punishment under the system, there are already easier (and free) ways to do it, including file sharing methods not tracked by the system.

Though there will be some increase in VPN usage, it’s unlikely that it will become as widespread as some think. Privacy-conscious file sharers already use such services and those who don’t already and wish to continue pirating will likely cheaper, easier solutions.

6. Small Copyright Holders Will Be Left Out

This one is less of a prediction and more of a certainty. Smaller copyright holders who are not represented by a major label, movie studio or trade organization, will be left out of the system.

According to the CCI site, the group works with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and groups like them. If you are not affiliated with one of these groups, you have no way of sending an alert.

If you are an independent game developer, an unsigned musician, a self-published author or even an independent filmmaker, odds are there’s no way you can participate in this system and use it to help enforce your work.

Bottom Line

So will the Copyright Alert System work? It depends on the goals you set before it.

It won’t eliminate piracy and it won’t immediately convert millions of people to paying customers, but it may reduce piracy and give legitimate services more room to grow and expand.

On that front, the alert system comes at a critical time. The decline of physical media is inevitable regardless of piracy and if legitimate digital services are going to replace that then the market needs to minimize piracy and ensure that as many potential customers as possible able to participate.

There’s no simple solution to that problem and the CAS is only a small part of the answer, but if it is able to encourage legitimate services at all, it could be a key piece of the puzzle.

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