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Summary:

Executives from ISPs including Comcast and AT&T today clarified their roles when it comes to interfering in fights between copyright holders and copyright infringers. There’s a lot of wrong information out there, but the facts boil down to two things: Comcast hasn’t changed its practice toward […]

Executives from ISPs including Comcast and AT&T today clarified their roles when it comes to interfering in fights between copyright holders and copyright infringers. There’s a lot of wrong information out there, but the facts boil down to two things: Comcast hasn’t changed its practice toward takedown notices, while AT&T has. And both say they’re not doing this solely on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Comcast issued the following statement:

“Comcast, like other major ISPs, forwards notices of alleged infringement that we receive from music, movie, videogame, and other content owners to our customers. This is the same process we’ve had in place for years – nothing has changed. While we have always supported copyright holders in their efforts to reduce piracy under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and continue to do so, we have no plans to test a so-called ‘three-strikes-and-you’re-out’ policy.”

Last week, AT&T began a trial program that follows a model enacted last year in the UK where an ISP attaches a cover letter to any notice from a copyright holder claiming infringement. We didn’t like it then and we still don’t today.

AT&T reached out today to let me know that it doesn’t issue take-down notices to its subscribers, but merely forwards the notice from the copyright owner along with an AT&T cover letter. The cover letter informs the subscriber without actually accusing them of illegal activity how they might find themselves in the position of receiving such a letter, and reminds them of AT&T’s terms of service that prohibit sharing copyrighted material.

The AT&T spokesman went to great pains to stress how grateful some customers are when they’re notified that illegal file sharing could be happening under their roofs and how benign this process was. He said AT&T doesn’t share customer information with the copyright owner unless there’s a subpoena, and he didn’t know if AT&T kept records of such notices in the customer’s file.

However, if this is such a benign tool, then why are the ISPs doing this at the risk of alienating their customers? My guess is they want access to content in a way they’ve never needed before. Content owners suddenly hold the strong position at the negotiating table as the ISPs seek to deliver rights to content so it can be viewed across televisions, computers and mobile phones.

This paves the way for the music industry and content owners to get what they want. Getting the ISPs to spy on threaten their customers is very effective. The AT&T spokesman cited data from the UK that points to a 70 percent reduction in illegal downloading after customers received the first notice, and a 90 percent reduction after customers received their second notice. If the ISPs don’t want to be a dumb pipe, it looks like they’re going to have to get their hands dirty.

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  1. Om, what should ISPs do instead? Discard the infringement notices, leaving the customer obvious to the fact that they’re on the radar? Next thing you know they are sued.

    Seems a heads up “you’ve been noticed” can’t be a bad thing.

    -Dane Jasper

    1. So it is ok with you that an ISP can do deep packet sniffing on your data? It is ok for an ISP to “shape” data? It is ok for an ISP to be able to tell us what kinds of data we can or cannot access at our own risk? Last time I checked I pay for internet “access”. I don’t pay them to be my mother. I currently am an AT&T customer, and I have already started to research for another provider. AT&T’s actions are unforgivable, and totally out of line. We have to deal with governments and non-government bodies constantly scanning my data. I don’t need my ISP to be doing the same.

  2. boricua_hasta_la_muerte Wednesday, March 25, 2009

    *snip* The AT&T spokesman went to great pains to stress how grateful some customers are when they’re notified that illegal file sharing could be happening under their roofs and how benign this process was. He said AT&T doesn’t share customer information with the copyright owner unless there’s a subpoena, and he didn’t know if AT&T kept records of such notices in the customer’s file. *snip*

    That’s not what they said when the gave their phone records to the NSA WITHOUT a subpoena.

  3. AT&T sold out to the government in 1913. They’ve been a good friend to the Feds and big business ever since.

  4. Okay Stacey… how about I start stealing all the content and posts from all of Om’s web blogs and republish them under my own brand?

    HOW BOUT THEM COOKIES?

    And the rest of you should have your cars checked for the homing devices the government has been installing so they can track you since 2003. GET A CLUE FOLKS. Move on already.

    What’s next? Trying to repatriate everyone in prison cause its not fair?

    Seriously.

    1. Stacey Higginbotham dwhit Thursday, March 26, 2009

      Dwhit, I’m not arguing that theft is justified, merely that the role of ISPs as enforcers is not a role that they should not take on. That’s the role of the government and courts.

      1. How many of you have actually reviewed the DMCA legislation? It’s aggregious!

        I understand, respect & believe in the value of copyrights. However, I believe this law oversteps many boundaries – including the rights of copyright holders, consumers and service providers.

        DMCA **forces** any ISP to act on infringement notices or directly assume the responsibility as if they condone (or actually committed) the copyright infringements. This has **nothing** to do with DPI or bandwidth throttling. “Acting” on a notice requires the ISP to present the complaint (as received by the copyright holder/agent) to the customer. This notice explains the alleged infringement (i.e. time, date, id’s copyrighted material(s), etc), includes a cease & desist statement, and describes how the “alleged infringer” can contest the claim with the copyright holder.

        The service provider, also per DMCA, is directly tasked with preventing the user from continuing to commit these alleged offenses, or again, face potential legal action. Depending on the ISP, polices to comply with this seem to range from direct take downs to “2 or 3 strikes your out” before a disconnect. All this is very cumbersome and completely third party to the ISP – the real issue is between the copyright holder and the “alleged infringer”.

        DMCA includes many other chilling & controversial rules and impositions. It was strongly influenced by the copyright holder community (i.e. big studios & recording labels) and in my opinion, insufficiently protects the rights of consumers & service providers. In fact, it likely makes anyone (possibly you reading this post) an “infringer” if you’ve ever ripped a CD to your MP3 player. DMCA forces ISPs into the role of “policeman” – but not the jury; and according to DMCA, “alleged infringers” are guilty until proven innocent. This is neither desired nor welcomed policy by ISPs.

        This policy has been reviewed by telecommunications & copyright attorneys at state & federal levels. Until this law can be changed to protect the rights of all parties, this is how things are going to work.

  5. UK Wants to Zap File-Sharers Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    [...] to slow down repeat offenders’ Internet connections if infringement warning letters — which have been very effective in the past — didn’t bring down piracy activity by 70 percent by 2012. But Lord Peter Mandelson [...]

  6. Verizon May Cozy Up to the RIAA – GigaOM Thursday, November 19, 2009

    [...] only notify subscribers that they may have erred; it will not threaten them with disconnection. We covered this trend last March when AT&T began experimenting with these letters: AT&T reached out today to let [...]

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