February last year, five U.S. Internet providers started sending Copyright Alerts to customers who use BitTorrent to pirate movies, TV-shows and music.
These efforts are part of the Copyright Alert System, an anti-piracy plan that aims to educate the public. Through a series of warnings suspected pirates are informed that their connections are being used to share copyrighted material without permission, and told where they can find legal alternatives.
During the first ten months of the program more than more than 1.3 million anti-piracy alerts were sent out. That was just a ramp up phase though. This year the number of alerts will grow significantly.
“The program doubles in size this year,” says Jill Lesser, Executive Director of the overseeing Center for Copyright Information (CCI).
Lesser joined a panel at the Technology Policy Institute’s Aspen Forum where the Copyright Alert System was the main topic of discussion. While the media has focused a lot on the punishment side, Lesser notes that the main goal is to change people’s norms and regain their respect for copyright.
“The real goal here is to shift social norms and behavior. And to almost rejuvenate the notion of the value of copyright that existed in the world of books and vinyl records,” Lesser said.
The notifications are a “slap on the wrist” according to Lesser, but one which is paired with information explaining where people can get content legally.
In addition to sending more notices, the CCI will also consider adding more copyright holders and ISPs to the mix. Thus far the software and book industries have been left out, for example, and the same is true for smaller Internet providers.
“We’ve had lots of requests from content owners in other industries and ISPs to join, and how we do that is I think going to be a question for the year coming up,” Lesser noted.
Also present at the panel was Professor Chris Sprigman, who noted that the piracy problem is often exaggerated by copyright holders. Among other things, he gave various examples of how creative output has grown in recent years.
“This problem has been blown up into something it’s not. Do I like piracy? Not particularly. Do I think it’s a threat to our creative economy? Not in any area that I’ve seen,” Sprigman noted.
According to the professor the Copyright Alert System is very mild and incredible easy to evade, which is a good thing in his book.
The professor believes that it’s targeted at casual pirates, telling them that they are being watched. This may cause some to sign up for a VPN or proxy, but others may in fact change their behavior in the long run.
“Do I think that this is a solution to the piracy problem. No. But I think this is a way of reducing the size of it over time, possibly changing social norms over time. That could be productive. Not perfect but an admirable attempt,” Sprigman said.
Just how effective this attempt will be at changing people’s piracy habits is something that has yet to be seen.