RealTime IT News

ISPs Deny 'Three Strikes' Deals With RIAA

ISPs are trying to put a lid on a fresh wave of speculation that they are in league with the entertainment industry with plans to shut off service to people suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted content.

Earlier this week, executives from several ISPs participated in a panel discussion on the proper role of their companies in guarding against copyright infringement at the Leadership Music Digital Summit. After some media reports sounded the alarm that ISPs might be planning to shut down service to subscribers suspected of infringement after issuing warnings -- a so-called three strikes policy, the providers are now speaking out to quash that notion.

Joe Waz, Comcast's public policy counsel, participated in the panel discussion, and took to the company's newly formed blog "to set the record straight."

"No American ISP (including Comcast) that I know of is talking about a so-called 'three strikes and you're out' law or process," Waz said. "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 or implement a so-called 'three strikes and you're out' policy."

The issue has been of keen concern to open-Internet advocates who warned against casting ISPs in the role of copyright cops when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced in December that it would stop suing Internet users for illegal file sharing, moving instead to the "graduated response" system, pejoratively dubbed three strikes.

Under that scheme, the RIAA said it would lean on ISPs to combat illegal file sharing by sending out warning letters to suspected infringers. The letters would carry the imprimatur of the ISP, a subtle but important departure from the dictates of the 1998 DMCA, which required providers to forward along cease-and-desist notices it received from copyright owners. Critics have warned that the direct involvement of the ISP in the process could lead down a slippery slope where content filtering and privacy invasions through techniques like deep-packet inspection become the norm.

In the days since the panel in Nashville, ISPs have been on damage control, telling InternetNews.com that they are not engaged in any graduated-response program at the behest of the RIAA.

"We never suspend or terminate our customers' service based upon the allegations of a third party," AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said, though he confirmed that the provider recently began a trial partnership with certain copyright owners to send notices to alleged infringers.

"Copyright holders routinely monitor file-sharing networks to determine if their copyrighted content is being distributed illegally over the Internet," he said. "We did not assist the copyright holder in that process. We are simply forwarding the notifications we receive from copyright holders to our customers."

Balmoris said that AT&T has not shut off service to any of its subscribers as a result of the trial.

David Deliman, a spokesman for Cox Communications, told InternetNews.com that the provider "has not signed an agreement with RIAA and we do not have a 'three strikes' policy."

He said that the provider has not altered its notification policies since the passage of the DMCA, though he said there have been instances when Cox has shut down service owing to infringement allegations.

"Since the time we implemented our DMCA notification process, we've sent hundreds of thousands of warnings to customers, but have only had to suspend the accounts of a tiny fraction of them," Deliman said. He said that less than one tenth of 1 percent of subscribers who have received infringement notifications have had their service suspended or shut down.

Similarly, Comcast's Sena Fitzmaurice told InternetNews.com that the cable giant has no deal with the RIAA "at this time," though it continues to talk with various rights owners and look for "innovative ways to combat piracy." She said that Comcast continues to automatically forward infringement notices in accordance with the DMCA, there has been no policy change since the RIAA's announcement in December.