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A SWAT for trying to officially turn ISPs into copyright police

Submitted by on Thursday, 21 January 2010 No Comment

Here’s how it works at Wal-Mart: A security guard spots someone she suspects of shop-lifting. She stops the person, calls the police and an investigation takes place.

Here’s how it would work if Wal-Mart were the Recording Industry Association of America: The security guard would be convinced that everyone is shoplifting, and store management would coerce car manufacturers into poking through GPS data from all vehicles and notifying suspicious drivers that they need to stop going anywhere in the vicinity of a Wal-Mart. If they go near Wal-Mart again, the manufacturer will limit their cars to 30 mph. Do it enough times and the manufacturer will take the car back.

That’s the tact the RIAA has taken for more than a year with Internet service providers, cutting deals with many – it won’t say which though in the case of Verizon, if it walks like a duck … – in which the RIAA agreed to quit suing the ISPs for data if the ISPs would send notices to subscribers whose online activity makes it appear that they’re sharing music files online.

And now the RIAA deals could become officially sanctioned, under the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed net neutrality regulations. On a broad basis, the proposal makes it clear that ISPs are to allow access to all legal content – that’s good news for those who have found their broadband speeds throttled back due to perfectly legitimate activity.

There is an exception, though, for “reasonable network management,” including regulating transfer of illegal content. That exception once again puts the ISPs in the position of being judge, jury and executioner based merely on suspicion.

“Under the proposed regulations,” a group of consumer advocates argue in comments filed last week, “an ISP would be free to employ undisclosed mechanisms to discriminate against lawful content and lawful transfers on the basis of application, protocol, or content, as long as it was able to successfully argue that it was
attempting to restrict unlawful content.”

That could include customers who use applications such as BitTorrent, which often serves perfectly legitimate purposes. I use it to download OpenOffice. Movie studios and television networks use it as well. Problem is, pirates do, too. And it’s estimated to account for a quarter to half of all Internet traffic, so wouldn’t ISPs just love an excuse to go after that one.

BitTorrent aside, it’s not uncommon for ISPs and the RIAA to be wrong in other ways. Printers at the University of Washington, for example, have been accused numerous times of copyright infringement, and the printers weren’t even capable of sharing files, the consumer advocates said in their remarks to the FCC.

Let’s see: Widespread invasions of privacy (not that you have much of that with your ISP anyway), mistaken persecutions and ISP staff resources spent serving for-profit companies instead of paying consumers.

FCC, Stop Wasting America’s Time by making ISPs the copyright police. The only benefit is to businesses, not to consumers who are footing the bill.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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