"For ISPs in general, the days of prevaricating over their responsibilities for helping protect music must end," McGuinness said this week at the Midem music industry convention in Cannes. "The ISP lobbyists who say they should not have to 'police the internet' are living in the past--relying on outdated excuses from an earlier technological age."
McGuinness's comments come as some U.S. companies are toying with technological means to block people from sharing copyrighted content. For instance, AT&T Senior Vice President James Cicconi has publicly said the company is mulling a deploying a filtering system.
But opponents fear that filters will block much lawful content, because digital fingerprinting systems can't tell whether clips are infringing or whether they constitute a fair use of copyrighted material, such as when reviewers post excerpts of a work to criticize it. Opponents also argue that determined pirates can bypass filters by encrypting material so it can't be recognized.
"Filtering doesn't work," says Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of advocacy group Public Knowledge. "Not only does it catch a lot of legal expressive activity in its net, it also drives the real pirates underground."
Specifically, McGuinness urged Internet service providers to cancel service to anyone who had uploaded copyrighted files three times.
He also blasted the safe harbor provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which generally protect Internet service providers from liability for copyright infringement as long as they remove offending material in response to a takedown notice.
"The legal precedent that device-makers and pipe and network owners should not be held accountable for any criminal activity enabled by their devices and services has been enormously damaging to content owners and developing artists," he said.
But some lawyers say that if Internet service providers were to filter content, they would arguably sacrifice some of those safe harbor protections. "The protections under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ... are premised on the notion that these ISPs are neutral, that they are not gatekeepers," Sohn said. "All of a sudden, if you inject a gatekeeping function, they're more like publishers; and when they're more like publishers, they're more responsible for what goes over their network."
In another proposal, U2's manager suggested that Internet service providers and record labels enter into a revenue-sharing partnership. "For me, the business model of the future is one where music is bundled into an ISP or other subscription service and the revenues are shared between the distributor and the content owners," he said.
Similar ideas have been floated by others, including digital civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor.