Commentary

Broadband Advocates Tell FCC To Stay Out Of Copyright Enforcement

The Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality proposals aren't just triggering pushback by Internet service providers. Broadband and consumer groups also are alarmed by some of the fine print in the FCC's 107-page notice of rulemaking.

Specifically, a coalition of six advocacy organizations -- including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge -- is concerned that the FCC has gone astray by considering what role ISPs should play in stopping copyright infringement.

The FCC's proposed neutrality rules would require ISPs to allow consumers to access all lawful content. But the FCC proposals contain an exception for "reasonable network management" -- which it said included the prevention of illegal transfers of copyrighted material.

The advocacy groups argue in comments filed late last week that there's no reason for such an exception because the proposed regulations themselves apply only to legal material.

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What's more, they say, any FCC stamp of approval of techniques aimed at combating piracy could result in blocking of legal material. "ISPs are poorly placed to determine whether or not transfers of content are infringing or otherwise unlawful, a task generally reserved to attorneys, courts, and law enforcement," the groups argue. "An exception permitting overbroad mechanisms would encourage ISPs to use systems that would encourage more false positives -- and thus more blocking of lawful transfers of content -- than otherwise."

Not surprisingly, Hollywood and the record labels argue the opposite. In separate filings made late last week, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America ask the FCC to prod ISPs to develop anti-infringement policies.

"In the absence of clear guidance from the Commission, ISPs -- fearful of government reproach -- may be reluctant to take advantage of the best available tools and techniques to prevent and combat online content theft," the MPAA asserts.

The RIAA, meanwhile, appears to downplay the dangers that lawful content will be blocked, arguing that "perfection is not required" when ISPs attempt to prevent infringement.

1 comment about "Broadband Advocates Tell FCC To Stay Out Of Copyright Enforcement".
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  1. Dave Woodall from fiorano associates, January 19, 2010 at 8:35 p.m.

    It sounds as though the RIAA wants its cake and eat it too. If, as the RIAA contends, the music business is so dependent upon the Internet, perhaps the music business should take a little more initiative when it comes to safeguarding the integrity of its content. Shifting the burden of infringement detection to ISP’s is like asking the United States Postal Service to deter copyright infringement because pirated works are distributed through the US Mail…which I hear is the next item on the RIAA’s agenda!

    Seriously though, where will it end? In its brief, the RIAA mentions “instant messaging, social networking sites, and (Internet) bulletin boards” as other distribution channels for digital content. How long will it take before the RIAA seeks similar restrictions and monitoring on the providers of these services as well?

    While the RIAA likes to wax poetic about diversity, opportunity, and “the general good”, its promotion of a “perfection is not required” system of potential infringement detection is perhaps the best indicator of its true feelings, which are: “What’s good for the RIAA is good for the country” (with apologies to Charles Wilson).

    The fundamental question remains: “Who is responsible for determining what is, and is not, legal behavior?” Traditionally that role has been provided by our legal system. To suddenly transfer that massive responsibility to a utility provider (ISP’s) at the urging of a vested special interest over something as (relatively) trivial as our personal entertainment, seems ludicrous. If the RIAA wishes to control Internet users’ behavior, perhaps it should get into the ISP business and leave the censorship business to the courts.

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