Ever feel like somebody’s watching you? Well, that’s because they are.
Be careful out there on the Internet, boys and girls, because Big Brother is now watching you more closely than ever. News has been making the rounds that the “Copyright Alert System,” conceived as far back as 2008, is now being implemented by Internet Service Providers nationwide. It sounds really scary, but don’t panic! Before I go any deeper, though, I’ll get the obligatory advisory out of the way: don’t steal stuff from the Internet — you can get in trouble for it (but you probably won’t). Still, “that guy in the free weekly paper said I might not get in trouble” is not a very good defense. So I’m on record telling you not to do it. Let’s move on.
What’s the Copyright Alert System?
Everyone’s favorite organizations, the MPAA and RIAA, have teamed up with the biggest ISPs in the country (including Verizon and Comcast, which account for the lion’s share of Internet users in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties) to “combat” Internet piracy.
How does it work?
The ISPs agreed to let their network traffic get scanned so that people sharing copyrighted material are flagged by their unique IP address. So, when you hop online and start downloading that pirated copy of Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: Chipwrecked, some software somewhere goes “ding!” and your ISP gets a note that not only are you stealing movies, you also have terrible taste.
What happens if I’m flagged?
Well, you know how someone at work keeps stealing your yogurt, and every goddamn time you put another note on the fridge like “stop stealing my yogurt, it HAS MY NAME ON IT” and you even put a couple extra exclamation points at the end to show you’re serious? That’s sort of what happens. You’ll get a note from the ISP reminding you that there are legal options to pay for content (well, duh, that’s why you were stealing in the first place, wasn’t it?). In some cases, the ISP may even slow your Internet speed down for a couple days to remind you what it was like before we had connections fast enough to steal things in the first place.
What happens next?
You’ll keep getting those strongly worded notices until it becomes so overwhelming you just have to stop. Just kidding! After the sixth notice, the folks behind the Copyright Alert System decided if you’re not willing to stop, you’re a lost cause. So they won’t bug you anymore. Seriously.
So, don’t worry about it?
Well, no. While your ISP won’t call up Fox and let them know that you’re interested in Alvin movies and they should dispatch someone for your immediate termination, they are still obligated to give you up if they’re ordered by the court. It’s highly unlikely many lawsuits will come from this system, and the stated goal is “education” not “prosecution.” But if you’re stealing enough stuff, chances are someone’s going to come knocking eventually. In the end, it’s probably not worth the risk. On the one hand, it’s nice to know you’re not going to get sent immediately to jail, but on the other hand it’s creepy that you are now officially being watched.