Why I Joined the Copyright Alert System Advisory Board

After a great deal of consideration and consultation with my colleagues inside and outside of Public Knowledge, I have decided to accept a position on the advisory board of the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), which will oversee a “copyright alert” system to be rolled out later this year.

This copyright alert system, a voluntary agreement between the largest ISPs and content companies, will send notices to alleged infringers using peer-to-peer networks in order to educate them about copyright and legal alternatives.  The system also provides for a process by which consumers can fight these allegations. 

I believe that if implemented properly, the copyright alert system could have a positive impact on illegal file sharing while at the same time protecting Internet users' rights.  Some work remains in order for the system to be a net positive, but rarely do things come out perfect at the start.

More specifically, here's why I’m participating:

The Advisory Board Needs an Advocate for Balanced Copyright

I see my role as a consumer “watchdog”; a liaison with the internet community that has pronounced its concern about the relentless march towards misguided copyright enforcement embodied in SOPA and PIPA. 

Because there were no other members of the Advisory Board with extensive experience in copyright policy advocacy on behalf of consumers, Public Knowledge and I decided that we could have more impact by working with the copyright alert system and actually providing input on behalf of ourselves and the Internet community, rather than guessing and complaining from the outside. 

I plan to keep you apprised of what is happening with the copyright alert system and reflect the public’s concerns in my role on the advisory board. 

This includes pushing for the release of data about the copyright alert system: How many notices were sent?  How many people got two notices, three, four, five, six?  How many appeals were made?  Were any requests for waivers of the appeals fee denied?  How many appeals were successful?  

The System Has Built-In Balance

ISPs are in the business of making money, a goal that is not furthered by kicking paying customers off of their networks. This is significant.

I’ve been doing copyright policy advocacy long enough to know that the movie and music studios care mostly about punishment, punishment, and more punishment when it comes to copyright.   But the copyright alert system is the product of a mutual agreement between the content industry and ISPs, who are equal partners in the endeavor. Therefore, this system has a built-in protection against overreach.

The advisory board will also serve as a balancing force.  As Ars Technica has noted,  I (and possibly others) will be quick to blow the whistle if things go awry, and of course, resignation is always an option.

A Successful Copyright Alert System Undermines the Case for the Next SOPA/PIPA

If the notices in the copyright alert system do in fact deter illegal conduct, it makes it harder for the content industries to argue that they need more legislative and policy tools to increase copyright enforcement.

I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life fighting numerous domestic and international efforts by the motion picture and recording industries to strengthen and lengthen copyright and its enforcement. The copyright alert system could undercut the never-ending plea that Congress “has to do something” about copyright enforcement.

Jill Lesser Gets It

It’s time the public understood copyright not by scolding and punishment, but by facts and access to legal alternatives.

Jill Lesser, the Executive Director of the CCI, has experience on all three sides represented here – ISP, content and consumer. In my recent conversations with her, I have been struck by her thoughtfulness about copyright policy and the passion with which she would like to use this platform to provide balanced education to consumers.

Moving Forward

Public Knowledge will continue to vigorously resist efforts at stronger copyright laws and we will continue to push solutions that bring balance back to copyright through our Internet Blueprint project.  We’ll also continue to fight for an open Internet and competitive broadband market.

At the same time, I will work with my colleagues among the ISPs and studios on behalf of consumers in the hope that the copyright alert system will become a success, because ultimately, consumers and creators will benefit if this system works.

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