RIAA/ISP deal on filesharing suggests content deals in the offing

ISPs want to be portals. Record labels want them to police users' file-sharing. What do the big ISPs get out of providing this service? Licensing deals to follow.

In the aftermath of the RIAA's promise to put the era of mass lawsuits behind it, Ars Technica has an interview with Cary Sherman, president of the recording association. Seems there's still plenty to be "worked out" in the RIAA's plans to have ISPs warn and punish file-sharers. A few snippets:

  • Q: When will the system actually be in place and start working? Has that been determined yet? A: It has not.
  • Q: Can you say anything about what ISPs are involved? A: No.
  • All the parties would want comfort that the technology is accurate and reliable, because nobody is interested in false positives. And we'll also need a mechanism so that somebody who claims that he or she was improperly identified would have an opportunity to be heard and have the question resolved. All of those things need to be worked out.
  • Q: How will you deal with ISPs that choose not to cooperate? Will they be notified about subscribers who share files? Will you proceed with lawsuits?

    That's an issue we hope not to have to address. … This is entirely voluntary and I think it's made possible because the business interests of the industries are converging. There was a time five years ago when ISPs were solely focused on increasing their broadband penetration, and cutting back on piracy was not part of their business interest. Five years later, they're in a very different place. They want to be portals in their own right, they want to offer their subscribers great content; it's something that distinguishes one from another. They're looking at themselves as more than the dumb pipes that they were five years ago, and I think that opens up partnerships that didn't exist before.

So, there are real concerns about the legitimacy of the process, what "due process" will be afforded to people who claim a false positive or a right to use the content. Given the industry's aggressiveness about, for instance, filing DMCA takedown notices on videos that fairly use copyrighted material, there should be some sort of ombudsman role within the ISP. Perhaps a consumer watchdog agency should be given access to these records to review them for mistakes or abuses.

The talk about ISPs as portals suggests that there are some secondary deals with the music industry in terms of licensing music downloads to their users. I can imagine that every ISP would like to get a piece of the iTunes action, and I know the industry would like to break Apple's stranglehold on the online music business. The deals could be a precursor to some sort of mandatory licensing program. Far better than banishing people from the Internet would be simply assessing them a use fee based on how many files were downloaded/distributed.