How does the Recording Industry Association of America plan to stop illegal file sharing? Perhaps by turning two of America's largest Internet service providers into stooges. Last year, after a round of very public defeats over its plans to sue individuals for illegal file sharing, the RIAA unveiled a new plan to have ISPs do its dirty work. Now, AT&T and Comcast may have signed on to do just that.
There is nothing in writing yet, and both companies are reportedly very tentative about jumping into bed with the RIAA, but according to CNET news, the three parties are close to an agreement. Under the arrangement, the RIAA would identify illegal file sharers and then the ISPs would issue take down notices.
If these take-down notices don't work, the ISPs would follow their own tiered response system, which could include suspension or termination of service. Right now, nobody's from either AT&T or Comcast is commenting on this agreement, but an AT&T spokesman did say to CNET that, "consumer education is a key component to enabling customers to find and use legal methods to access the content they want...we [AT&T] have also consistently said that automatic cutoff of our customers is not something we would do." We'll see.
There's also the question of what kind of impact these actions will have on AT&T and Comcast. If they are the only ISPs sticking their necks out, then they may see their customer base flock to other providers who won't work with the RIAA. However, this assumes the ability to file share is a major factor for most ISP customers. While file sharing is a widespread phenomenon, it's hard to say whether the methods would cause a significant backlash, especially outside of the tech media bubble.
Regardless, the RIAA just doesn't seem to get it. Trying to create some sort of online police state for file sharing has already been shown to be ineffective. There are other ideas, like a licensed p2p system recently instituted on the Isle of Man and proposed by UK ISP provider Virgin Media-the company ultimately had to scrap the plan after the record labels backed out. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for online consumers, also supports a licensed p2p.
It seems to me that the RIAA and ISP coalition will take us right back to where this whole mess began: needless lawsuits, bandwidth throttling and aggravation on both sides.
Check out JR Raphael's earlier post for a more in-depth study of the pros and cons on the RIAA's plans.