It was big news earlier this month when many of the big entertainment companies entered into an agreement with Internet service providers (ISPs) regarding efforts they will take to self-regulate and self-police copyright infringement. The name of this plan is the "Copyright Alert System."
According to the Wall St. Journal and the Center for Copyright Information, the plan has six steps, from the mildest (in issuing warnings), to the intermediate (in requiring users to acknowledge that they received notice), to the most severe (in slowing down the speed at which alleged infringers may access the Internet).
As a copyright lawyer who goes to court to resolve disputes, I am most interested in the intermediate step. It strikes me that if users are forced to acknowledge that they have received a warning that their conduct may constitute infringement and yet they proceed forward anyway, the fact that they acknowledged such warning may be used against them in a copyright infringement action. The ISPs will not be releasing the identity of these users voluntarily. But a court can always grant permission to subpoena material showing that they took this intermediate step. This new policy may be opening up a whole new world of evidence of willfulness that can be used against people who knowingly infringe on others' copyrights. And willful infringement entitles copyright plaintiffs to increased money damages.