The most recent effort to combat the illegal downloading of music, movies and TV launched Feb. 25 under the name of the Copyright Alert System. More commonly known as the six strikes system (as a result of its methodology), it was implemented by the Center for Copyright Information amidst harsh criticism, little support and daunting challenges. If you’re responsible for one of the 146-million visits to an online piracy site a day, the six strikes system is looking at you — though they claim their efforts are to educate, rather than punish you.

The new system is the product of a joint coalition of industry organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America, internet service providers like Comcast and an advisory council of consumer technology advocates and experts. Together, the affectionately named “copyright cartel” hopes to encourage account holders to take responsibility for the illegal activity occurring on their Internet or Wi-Fi network.

Under the program, regulatory organizations such as the MPAA will monitor how its copyright material is both used and distributed. If they confirm their movies or TV programs are being shared illegally, they can notify the ISP of the suspected internet protocol address that each Internet-connected device has. Basically, this unique association of numbers to individual computers allows the ISP to distribute the necessary alerts or warnings.

In other words, copyright holders that see your IP address sharing illegally will tattle on you to the big bad ISPs.

A maximum of six alerts will be ordered, with the varying degree of seriousness left to the discretion of the Internet provider. The alerts follow the general evolution from two educational alerts to two required acknowledgment alerts and finally two mitigation alerts. Verizon, for example, proposes that the sixth alert could render violators’ Internet connection reduced to archaic dial-up speeds for days. The accused will have the option of paying 35 dollars to have their case reviewed by an independent arbitrator. Termination of connection will never be an option.

Advisory council member Gigi Sohn was quoted as calling the six strikes system a “significant test of whether a voluntary copyright enforcement system can work, while at the same time protecting the rights of Internet users.” This second goal has elicited extreme contention, and opponents to the six strikes system are not few or far between. Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web in 1989, but these days is calling six strikes a watchdog system and a general threat to democracy. In the last week of February alone, searches for BitTorrent and ways to avoid detection like virtual private networks spiked, coinciding with the launch of the program.

Using a torrent site and VPN together is relatively easy way of circumventing the eyes of the CCI. Think of a torrent as your Marauder’s map to whatever downloads you desire, and the VPN as the invisibility cloak to shield the process. A Comcast spokesperson even admitted that a copyright infraction could go unnoticed under this type of protection.

For example, you want to download the No. 1 pirated television show, “Lost.” Torrents are especially great to download large, popular files as the software speedily pieces together the available components from multiple sources. When you click download on the first season of “Lost,” the software communicates with its central server, a tracker, to locate other software users with either that same complete file, called seed computers, or those with a portion of it. The simultaneous extraction enhances the quickness of the process.

But you can’t just sneak into Diagon Alley and expect no one to notice you trolling about. For that, you need to hide from the CCI with a VPN like ProXPN or TorGuard. These services only tell your ISP when you used the VPN, but encrypts and secures the details of the data you send and receive, especially from a government-sponsored entity. Lifehacker recommends considering a VPN provider’s server exit locations when shopping for your pirating invisibility cloak. Theoretically, exit locations outside the United States means you are even further protected from the CCI jurisdiction.

Of course, the University explicitly bars users from illegal file sharing on its networks or computers, and unsurprisingly warns that “members of the University of Michigan community have been prosecuted successfully for violations of copyright law.” They advise students to download legally from websites like MSN Music, Rhapsody and Ruckus. But for the off-campus pirates out there, just make sure you use a VPN that doesn’t store logs of your activity, or stores them outside of the country.

So far, the test of the Copyright Alert System faces some serious statistics. The prevalence of illegal downloading is consistently increasing. More than 75 percent of computers harbor at least one illegally downloaded application, and similar figures of Internet users find nothing wrong with online piracy. Maybe you side with the majority, maybe you feel guilty about the estimated 750,000 US jobs that are lost due to illegal downloading, or maybe you just don’t want to pay to watch “The Hobbit.” When in doubt, perhaps it’s wise to err on the safe side … whatever that is.

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