The Copyright Alert System (CAS) aims to identify pirates, notify their ISPs and then use a six-step process to "educate" users about copyright law and legal alternatives to piracy. That doesn't sound so bad on paper; a closer look reveals an intrusive, if polite, new partner in the relationship between consumer and ISP.
The CAS was devised by the Center for Copyright Information, a group funded by major ISPs and copyright holders from the music and movie industries. The system will be implemented over the next two months by AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast (Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of Syfy, which hosts DVICE), Time Warner Cable and Verizon. The system will vary by ISP, but the basic vision is the same across the board. The CAS will pick up on a user's copyright infringement activity, after which the ISP will be notified. The ISP will then pass along a warning to the infringing user.
These warnings will scale to six levels of severity. First offenses notify the user, and basically assume that the infringement was a mistake. These warnings offer education on copyright law and information about how to secure a wireless router (just in case the shmuck next door is a dirty Internet stealing pirate.) Users can choose to acknowledge or ignore these warnings, but if the infringing activity is found to continue, punitive steps will be taken. While the CCI is saying that disconnecting someone's Internet service is off the table as a punitive measure, Internet speed downgrades are in. The CCI often demurs when asked about punitive measures, preferring to defer in turn to the various ISPs involved. It's a lot murkier than it should be.
It is clear, though, that in the later stages of the alert system, infringing users will be redirected to educational videos that can run as long as ten minutes. In comments to Ars Technica, CCI chief Jill Lesser said that if these six alerts don't change the infringing behavior, the user is "from our perspective, out of the program." As to what that means to the user, she equivocates, "At that point, all of the tools that the content owners and the ISPs have at their disposal are there." Meaning, call your lawyer.