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US Copyright Alert System issues 1.3 million infringement warnings in 2013

Over in the US, the five major ISPs taking part in the Copyright Alert System (CAS) sent out over 1.3 million copyright infringement notices throughout 2013.

The scheme cracks down on illegal downloaders and matches source IPs of downloaded material to ISP account holders, and when the IP match has been verified, a notice is sent out warning the (alleged) offender of the transgression.

Though the problem, as we’ve noted before, with this sort of system is that the connection account holder isn’t necessarily the offender (it could be, for example, someone who’s accessed the wireless connection without authorisation). It’s possible to appeal against a warning in this case – and a small number of Americans have done so successfully in the CAS program, by all accounts – though the onus is on the user to prove they aren’t in the wrong, not the rights holder to prove they are.

At any rate, the ISPs signed up to CAS are AT&T, Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon, and they’ve delivered a lot of taps on downloaders’ shoulders over the past year. The first two warnings that the copyright offender receives are merely “educational” in nature, with the procedure then escalating to a notice which requires a response on the next two occasions – and the fifth and sixth warnings could mean that the customer has their Internet speed throttled down (a punishment that will obviously make peer-to-peer sharing a tricky proposition, as it slurps bandwidth).

With 1.3 million notices generated last year in America, Ars Technica reports that the program is expected to expand rapidly from here, with the Centre for Copyright Infringement estimating that the numbers will double at least in 2014.

The RIAA was somewhat optimistic about the results, and Chairman Cary Sherman called the CAS program a “successful, sustainable model for future voluntary partnerships between the entertainment community and other Internet intermediaries”.

He noted that there were fewer alerts sent progressing through the stages of warnings – indicating that folks are taking notice of the warnings – but he cautioned: “Does that all mean we can make a declaratory judgment that we’ve won the piracy fight? Of course not. This program was never intended to do that.”

In the UK, we have the VCAP (Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme) scheme which is being pushed in, although this has a light touch, and will consist purely of educational warnings, as opposed to any connection throttling or the like. However, the suspicion is that the BPI and MPA may have agreed to the watered-down VCAP as part of a long-term plan to see it fail to be effective, and to use that to push harder for tougher measures down the road. We may yet see a “strikes” and throttling system enforced in the UK, in other words…