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ISPs to Police Networks?

Peer Pressure
Peer Pressure
Peer Pressure
8/28/2007

3:50 PM -- According to Variety, one lawmaker proposes that policing piracy should be the problem of network providers.

A leading lawmaker will propose federal legislation requiring telcos and cable operators to send Internet subscribers a warning letter if they access pirated content.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Los Angeles) disclosed Thursday at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce antipiracy panel in Hollywood that he'll introduce the legislation as early as next month.


But how would carriers even know if pirated content passed through their networks? And ultimately, why would they care?

Under the current scheme, the RIAA watches various file-sharing sites, identifies malicious activity or illegal file sharing, tracks that activity to an IP address, then subpoenas the identities of users from service providers associated with that IP address.

And remember, this came about after some legal squabbling. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), for one, lost a lawsuit against the RIAA after it attempted to protect the identities of users that had allegedly infringed copyrights on its networks.

Under Berman's plan, the onus of finding illegal content would fall on the service provider. But it ignores the fact that service providers are ridiculously ill equipped to do so.

For one thing, service providers do not have visibility into what files are passing over their networks. Modern networks aren't what we would consider dumb pipes anymore, but they're still pretty stupid.

Even those that admit using deep packet inspection or traffic shaping products say that, while they can identify certain applications or classes of traffic being used by customers, they don't have the granularity to determine that a packet is one portion of a pirated John Denver CD. Nor, under the terms of most customer agreements, would they really want to.

Secondly, most ISPs don't have access to the entire vast catalog of copyrighted material that has been produced and distributed since the beginning of time (or whenever the most U.S. recent copyright law pushed the date back to) to compare against whatever might be passing over their networks.

And finally, there is absolutely zero financial incentive for a service provider to spy on its own users. Yes, there are certain whisperings that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and other ISPs are slowing, blocking, or throttling peer-to-peer traffic. (See Comcast Takes on TorrentFreak.) But even if they were (and Comcast flatly denies it), they would be doing so to protect aggregate traffic running over the network, not to satisfy the bloodlust of copyright owners.

So Berman's plan to move the costs associated with policing pirated file sharing traffic away from the copyright owners (his constituents) to the ISPs is, like a lot of technology-related legislation, half-baked. But it's entirely in line with what we've come to expect from our elected officials.

— Ryan Lawler, P2P Proselytizer, Light Reading

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