Last month, Variety reported that Comcast, the largest cable operator in the United States, had begun soliciting industry support for an alternative to the Copyright Alert System (CAS), commonly referred to as the "six strikes" initiative. CAS was implemented earlier this year, not as a matter of law but as an industry agreement to track and penalize cable subscribers suspected of downloading content from infringing sources.
Rather than track and punish subscribers, Comcast is said to be developing an alternative that would try to redirect subscribers to options that offered legitimate rental or purchase opportunities. When a subscriber downloaded any content thought to be infringing, the cable provider would send a pop-up message carrying links to the paid alternatives.
This initiative is interesting on at least three fronts:
- The new approach would be immediate. CAS warnings typically takes days to weeks to reach a subscriber.
- It would provide real-time data on whether and how potential infringers can be converted to paid consumers.
- It is being led by a company with significant content assets (Universal Studios and the NBC television networks, among them).
Andrew Wallenstein, digital editor-in-chief for Variety, saw the Comcast effort as substantially different from CAS:
Using pirated content as a platform to drive legal transactions reflects an alternate philosophy regarding copyright infringement, one that sees the illegal activity less as a crime that requires punishment and more as lead generation to a consumer whose behavior is borne out of inadequate legitimate digital content options.
At the time of the report, Comcast was soliciting engagement from a wide variety of content owners. I hope they get the support they want, so that a meaningful test can be undertaken. There's no certainty that the alternate approach will work, but there's a good deal of evidence that enforcement alone has not helped stop piracy.