Earlier this week, the nation’s five largest Internet service providers joined with two major entertainment industry associations to launch the Copyright Alert System, in an effort to better thwart illegal content sharing.

The system consists of a series of warnings that ultimately, if ignored, might result in slower Internet service for the violator for 48 hours. What such warnings look like were posted by Ars Technica Wednesday.

Copyright Alert System Messages Revealed

(Image: Ars Technica)

The Copyright Alert System was put into effect this week by Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cablevision, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America.

It is the first time since a spate of aggressive and unpopular lawsuits almost a decade ago that the music and movie industries are going after Internet users they accuse of swapping copyrighted files online. But unlike the lawsuits from the mid-2000s – which swept up everyone from young kids to the elderly with sometimes ruinous financial penalties and court costs – the latest effort is aimed at educating casual Internet pirates and convincing them to stop. There are multiple chances to make amends and no immediate legal consequences under the program if they don’t.

“There’s a bunch of questions that need to be answered because there are ways that this could end up causing problems for Internet users,” such as the bureaucratic headache of being falsely accused, David Sohn, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based civil liberties group, said according to the Associated Press. But he added: “There’s also the potential for this to have an impact in reducing piracy in ways that don’t carry a lot of collateral damage.”

Under the new program, the industry will monitor “peer-to-peer” software services for evidence of copyrighted files being shared. Each complaint will prompt a customer’s Internet provider to notify the customer that their Internet address has been detected sharing files illegally. Depending on the service provider, the first couple of alerts will likely be an email warning. Subsequent alerts might require a person to acknowledge receipt or review educational materials. If a final warning is ignored, a person could be subject to speed-throttling for 48 hours or another similar “mitigation measure.”

Copyright Alert System Messages Revealed

(Image: Ars Technica)

Copyright Alert System Messages Revealed

(Image: Ars Technica)

Copyright Alert System Messages Revealed

(Image: Ars Technica)

After five or six “strikes,” however, the person won’t face any repercussions under the program and is likely to be ignored. It’s unclear whether such repeat offenders would be more likely at that point to face an expensive lawsuit. While proponents say it’s not the intention of the program, it’s possible the alert system will be used to initiate lawsuits.

A primary question is whether the system will generate a significant number of “false positives,” or cases in which people are accused of sharing illegal content but aren’t. One scenario is if a person doesn’t encrypt their wireless connection, leaving it open to a neighbor or malicious hacker that swaps illegal files. Another example might be if a person uploads a “mashup” of songs or brief scenes from a movie – content that wouldn’t necessarily violate the law but could get flagged by the system.

The Center for Copyright Information, which created the alert system, said on its website that before an alert is sent, “a rigorous process ensures the content identified is definitely protected by copyright and that the notice is forwarded to the right Subscriber.” According to the Associated Press, the system will rely on humans to review the entire content of every file to make sure it qualifies as material protected under copyright laws.

If you’re wondering how content owners know you’ve infringed on their copyrights, CCI wrote that the companies that own the music, movies and TV shows join peer-to-peer networks that allow them to locate such content through keyword searches.

“Once they see a title being made available on the peer-to-peer network, they confirm that it is, in fact, copyrighted content,” CCI stated.

This video from CCI explains how it works:

If someone receives an alert they believe was in error, they can go through the Independent Review Process, which is run by the American Arbitration Association.

Another problem with the alerts, besides the potential for false accusations, that Ars Technica pointed out is what if the person never receives the alerts. Ars Technica noted that the pop-up alerts refer to a comcast.net e-mail address.

“That could suggest that if a Comcast user maintains a constant VPN connection, and doesn’t check his or her Comcast e-mail account, she could plausibly say that she never received any alerts,” Cyrus Farivar wrote for Ars Technica.

Read more about the potential flaws in the system from Ars Technica here.

Related:

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

(H/T: Gizmodo)