Skip to main content

How to keep web copyright infringers honest

By Jill Lesser, Special to CNN
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Tue July 17, 2012
Jill Lesser says the new Center for Copyright Information intends to educate consumers about what is and isn't infringement
Jill Lesser says the new Center for Copyright Information intends to educate consumers about what is and isn't infringement
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jill Lesser: Earlier op-ed imputed sinister intent to a new Copyright Alert System; there is none.
  • She says the coalition of ISP's, media companies wants to deter copyright infringers
  • She says it won't share your personal info, it's trying to educate consumers
  • Lesser: Aim is to let consumers know what is OK and not OK to just take from the internet

Editor's note: Jill Lesser is the Executive Director of the Center for Copyright Information.

(CNN) -- Recently an op-ed by Douglas Rushkoff took up the issue of the creation of the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), a coalition charged with implementing the Copyright Alert System, a graduated response framework to copyright infringement. As the executive director of the Center, I would like to respond to several concerns that article raised about how the program will work and its goals

For background, the Copyright Alert System aims to inform consumers of inadvertent or purposeful unauthorized distribution of content over peer-to-peer networks and to help consumers find legal ways to obtain, share and enjoy movies and music protected by copyright.

The program represents an unprecedented and voluntary partnership between leading Internet Service Providers (ISPs) -- AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon -- and U.S. content creators -- represented by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America -- with advice from leading consumer advocates. Gigi Sohn, president and CEO of Public Knowledge and Marsali Hancock, president, iKeepSafe.org, sit on our advisory board, to name just two.

This system reflects a new reality: The Internet has forever changed how content is consumed, making content easy to find, use and experience.

Our work at CCI is about educating consumers about how to legally and ethically enjoy the movies and music they love. As Rushkoff says: "The longer term solution would be to develop an appropriate social contract: conducting ourselves online under the same civilized behavioral norms that keep us from, say, stealing stuff from one another's homes even though we could probably get away with it."

It's beyond this premise that I take issue with Rushkoff's article.

The article's headline: "Will your Internet provider be spying on you?" indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the program and how it works; it suggests that ISPs would engage in an activity anathema to their consumers to protect copyright. Now that doesn't sound like the ISPs that I know.

Opinion: Will your Internet provider be spying on you?

The role of the ISPs in the new Copyright Alert System will be to pass on notices sent by copyright holders to those subscribers whose Internet protocol addresses (strings of numbers that mean little to most people ) have been associated with allegedly illegal file sharing. As they have done for years, content owners will use technical methodologies to identify alleged infringements over peer-to-peer networks and will request that notices of such alleged infringement be passed on to subscribers by the participating ISPs.

To be clear: No personal information at all, including the identity of the subscriber, will be shared with the content owners by the ISPs. What the ISPs will do, in recognition of the importance of copyright protection generally, is to then provide their subscribers with education and information about what not to do and how to get content in the right way.

The alerts will be non-punitive -- 4-6 in total, depending on the ISP -- but progressive in scale. If the activity stops, the alerts stop. Initial alerts will focus on making the consumer aware of the activity and highlighting legal ways to enjoy content.

The alerts are designed with particular attention to key groups -- parents of teens, for example -- to provide the most helpful and actionable information possible. Alerts that require acknowledgment of receipt of the alert follow and -- in some cases -- the system also includes mitigation measures, which vary between ISPs. These may include temporary reduction of Internet speed or redirection to a landing page until the subscriber contacts the ISP or reviews educational information.

The CAS will only address activity over to peer-to-peer programs such as BitTorrent -- not streaming video or other general online content. The system is based on consumers' "right to know" when their Internet account is being used for illegal file sharing through peer-to-peer networks, or if their own online activity infringes on copyrights -- inadvertently or otherwise -- so that they can correct that activity.

The alert system is similar to warnings and alerts in place for stolen credit cards. The unfortunate reality of malware and other potential dangers on peer-to-peer programs makes this service to subscribers particularly important.

Going beyond the nuts and bolts of the program, the Center for Copyright Information's primary goal is educational. The program is designed to provide non-punitive tools that will help inform consumers about how to legally enjoy digital copyrighted content and avoid illegal peer-to-peer networks, through a system based on information and deterrence.

As Rushkoff points out, "in many cases the Internet subscriber might have no knowledge of the infraction" and he goes on to describe how a houseguest might share illegal content without the Internet subscriber's knowledge. But that's exactly the point. Many subscribers, particularly parents or caregivers, are not aware that their accounts are being used to distribute illegal -- and sometimes harmful -- content through peer-to-peer networks.

That ignorance doesn't make it acceptable. What we need to do is help subscribers better understand what they can and cannot do and help them get the compelling and entertaining movies and music from the constantly expanding collection of legal services now in the marketplace.

With methods for sharing content constantly evolving, the Copyright Alert System is designed to address an information gap. From homeowners who want to make sure their wireless networks are secure to parents concerned about their children's activity on the internet, information and tools can help users better consume content. In the coming months, we are eager to share our effort to close this information gap.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jill Lesser.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 3:17 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
updated 9:59 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 3:27 PM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT