Most movie buffs can't wait for films they haven't seen to come out on DVD, Blu-Ray or par-per-view TV. Then there are the movie fans who literally can't wait.
If you're into downloading movies online that are still enjoying their first runs in theaters, there's no shortage of websites where you can do it. There's only one problem: it's illegal, and Hollywood is getting serious about punishing people who pirate their movies.
This week, five major Internet service providers (ISPs) – AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, Verizon and Comcast – announced the Copyright Alert System (CAS), which is designed to stop you from illegally downloading movies, television shows and music.
This new system, coordinated by the Center for Copyright Infringement in conjunction with the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, involves six levels of alert – or "six strikes" – that an offending downloader will endure.
The ISPs have not yet released their individual plans, but basically the alerts will follow this pattern:
• First offense: The user will receive an email from the ISP informing of the illegal download
• Second offense: A second email requiring confirmation of receipt, or a call from the ISP
• Third and fourth offenses: Requirement that the user watches an educational video about piracy
• Fifth and sixth offenses: The ISP slows down the user's bandwidth or, in some cases, terminates service completely
"Implementation marks the culmination of many months of work on this groundbreaking and collaborative effort to curb online piracy and promote the lawful use of digital music, movies and TV shows," Center for Copyright Infringement executive director Jill Lesser wrote in a blog post this week on the organization's website. "The CAS marks a new way to reach consumers who may be engaging in peer-to-peer (P2P) piracy."
The new system does not have any legal teeth, however. It is not a government program and offenders can't be prosecuted in any way. Essentially, the worst thing that can happen to you is that your ISP cuts off your Internet service – and there are some who question whether any ISPs will actually take that step.
Also, the CAS can't track your downloads if you're using a private BitTorrent tracker, which is a server that regulates the communication between people downloading and uploading files. When the tracker is private, only select people get to use that website instead of the general public. Also, the CAS won't look at email attachments and other places.
Still, this new system heralds a renewed effort to stop online piracy by the film, television and music industries. "The entertainment industry is starting to flex its muscles on illegal downloading and they've now enlisted the ISPs to help them," says attorney Brian Albert of legal information website THELAW.TV. "That's a potentially powerful combination."