ISPs sending RIAA letters - but swear they won't suspend users

Comcast and AT&T have started issuing copyright infringement to Internet subscribers. The question is, is this part of theRIAA's litigation-free "graduated response"?

Comcast and AT&T have started issuing copyright infringement to Internet subscribers. The question is, is this part of the RIAA's litigation-free "graduated response"? Or just business as usual? Denials are flying fast, but what's really going on is a little less clear.

Let's rely on Greg Sandoval's ongoing coverage of events today to ferret things out.

Tuesday at the Leadership Music Digital Summit AT&T said they were cooperating with the RIAA and sending out warning notices to illict music downloaders, Sandoval reported.

At the same conference, Comcast SVP Joe Waz said the company has issued 2 million notices on behalf of copyright owners. But that's nothing new, a Comcast spokesperson quickly spun.

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. 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.

Then AT&T's Jim Cicconi stepped up to say there is no deal with RIAA and AT&T will never suspend a user based on RIAA say-so, according to USA Today.

Any suggestion that there is a deal between us and RIAA is just bogus. We will never suspend, terminate or sanction any customer without some sort of legal process, like a court order. That’s been our policy for years, and that’s not going to change.

He did concede, though, that AT&T is testing a process where it passes on nastygrams from the recording industry.

Oh, and the Cox policy: the same.

When we receive notifications from RIAA or other copyright holders stating that their copyrighted material is being infringed by a customer, we pass that information along to the customer so they can correct the problem, or dispute the notice directly with the copyright holder if they feel the notice was sent in error. This notification is the most helpful thing we can do for the customer and is expected of us, as an ISP, under the DMCA. We attach a copy of the notice from the copyright holder with our message to the customer.

So, what's going on? The ISPs are cooperating with the RIAA by passing along copyright infringement notices. They're not getting involved beyond that. They're willing to offer themselves as a conduit but they won't take action against subscribers based on those letters. That's not to say they won't follow a court order to unplug subscribers found to be in violation of copyright laws. And I assume they won't have much problem with supplying the RIAA with the suscriber info down the road.

Probably the RIAA is expecting the simple delivery of the letters to have a pleasingly chilling effect on P2P use. And it is a better tack than filing lawsuits or extorting settlement monies. But in most cases copyright infringement is a civil matter, I believe, so I still don't think ISPs need to or should be playing messenger-boy for the recording industry.

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