At the time, there was talk of graduated sanctions, but no one would clarify what that meant. If ISPs planned on alerting people that they were suspected of file-sharing, that was one thing. But if they were contemplating cutting off users, that was quite another, presenting a host of issues. What kind of evidence would be used to sanction users? Would they have the opportunity to challenge the allegations? And who would decide whether infringement had occurred?
Completely apart from the procedural issues, some industry observers also wondered whether ISPs were really about to cut off paying customers. After all, broadband providers typically try to sign up subscribers, not turn them away.
The ISPs haven't done the best job of answering these questions in the last three months. So it's not surprising that rumors have been swirling. This week, some of those rumors took on a life of their own after it was reported that Comcast had sent 2 million "warning" notices to subscribers. Those reports were based on a mistaken interpretation of comments made by Comcast senior vice president Joe Waz at a music industry event in Nashville.
Waz was actually referring to the total number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act notices that Comcast has sent since it launched its broadband service. When a copyright holder complains to an ISP about alleged infringement, the ISP forwards that complaint to the user.
"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," a company spokesman clarified in an email to MediaPost. "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."
Meantime, comments by AT&T's Jim Cicconi also raised concern. Cicconi said that the company was now sending warnings to alleged file-sharers. AT&T later clarified that it had no intention of disconnecting users without a court order, according to press reports.
The RIAA and ISPs could do everyone a big favor by shedding light on what, exactly, they have in store for people.