As I’ve observed before, the IP Mafia have absolutely the worst judgment imaginable when it comes to their agenda. Now, the people who tried to kill the VCR, have just about killed internet radio, and who have sued dead people and sick children, have hit on another winning plan — using ISPs as enforcers.
Once upon a time and long ago, ISPs understood why it was important to be a common carrier and have no liability for this. That was why Congress included Section 230 and the “Good Samaritan” provision in the 1996 Telecom Act. It boils down to “when you act like a dumb pipe and just pass stuff from one place to another, we will not hold you liable for what happens.” For the same reason (as Bob Cannon explains over here on Cybertelecom), Congress generally immunized ISPs and created the whole “notice and take down” scheme in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.
But all that was before our ISP industry boiled down to a handful of companies that were also either big content producers or video distributors dependent on the good will of big content producers. Suddenly, from the perspective of the IP Mafia, a whole new world of possible backroom dealings opened up. A world in which a few companies could make policies that would cover nearly the entire high-speed access market, and where they either shared common interest with the IP Mafia or could be “persuaded” to do so by threatening to withhold needed video content.
And so, the MPAA and RIAA walked right into my cunning trap, the fools! Alas, turns out Comcast and AT&T were too clever for me.
More below . . . .
Lets face it, can you imagine anything getting broadband access providers shoved back under Title II common carriage rules faster than suddenly yanking everyone the RIAA or MPAA fingers as a potential pirate? With no appeal rights? Granted, this trick worked back in 1994-95 with domain names, where all it took was a postcard to Network Solutions to get a domain name suspended. But that was domain names and was way back in the dawn of time when most judges didn’t even know what the heck a domain name was (at least, to judge by the early case law).
These days, lots and lots of people rely on their broadband connection for lots and lots of really important things — whether that’s telecommuting or running their home business or doing video Skype calls with Grandma. Now add to that the fact that most of the bots used to track potential copyright infringers have some pretty high error rates (after all, they don’t care about false positives, that’s your problem in this “prove you are innocent” system). But this together with the RIAA/MPAA proposal to yank accused offenders off the Internet and you have a recipe for pissing off thousands of people really quickly in ways that will absolutely get them on the phones to their Senators and Representatives shouting “what the F— do you mean these A–holes can just shut down my internet connection with no warning!”
The IP Mafia do not believe this will happen, because they believe their ‘bots are always honest and their customers are always liars. Besides, the people who will get the crap kicked out of them if this does hit the fan are the cable and telephone companies that shut down the broadband connection, not the MPAA or RIAA.
So when it looked like AT&Twas dumb enough to fall for the RIAA/MPAA sales pitch on this, and it looked like Comcast and Cox would go along, I chortled with glee and channeled my inner Cartman to pronounce these guys HELLASTUPID. Because if they thought they found themselves in a world of regulatory hurt after blocking BitTorrent, they would not believe what would happen to them when they started turning off thousands of individual subscribers. They would find themselves at a Congressional hearing that would make their worst meetings with Kevin Martin feel like a session with the comfy chair and the Spanish Inquisition, followed rapidly by legislation and FCC rulemaking to ensure that hordes of angry constituents never got cut off like that again.
Alas, it appears that neither AT&T or Comcast are quite that stupid. AT&T Big Honcho Jim Cicconi went out of his way to say today they would never terminate service without a court order. Comcast and Cox, while not being quite that explicit, also stressed they would not terminate anyone’s service on the mere claim of infringement by a copyright holder. So it looks like AT&T and Comcast really are smart enough to avoid hanging themselves, despite the RIAA/MPAA supplying them with all this shiny new rope and assurance that it will be ever so much fun.
Still, as both the IP Mafia and the big incumbents repeatedly prove time and again, there’s always opportunity to do something big and stupid.
Stay tuned . . . .
Great stuff as always, Harold.