Why AT&T's Copyright Filter Could Suck For Everyone -- Including AT&T

If AT&T installs a copyright filter on its broadband network, will it shoot itself in the foot?

Last week at CES, reps from NBC, Microsoft, and AT&T discussed whether Internet service providers should take a leading role in filtering out pirated, copyrighted content from subscribers’ broadband connections. “What we are already doing to address piracy hasn’t been working,” said AT&T exec James Cicconi, according to the NY Times.

Why would AT&T offer such a service? It could conceivably charge studios for the filter. It might convince itself that it has a vested interest in stopping piracy because it is now a content provider, via its “U-Verse” TV service. And if AT&T frees up enough of its pipes — pirated video uses up a ton of bandwidth — the filter could even cut network capex.

But are any of those rationales worth the blowback? No way, Columbia Law prof Tim Wu writes in a Slate column.

Key questions: How would the filter know the difference between a legal download of copyrighted content and an illegal download of the same content? How will AT&T offer customer service for the filter? If your download gets stopped, do you have to sit on hold with a rep to sort things out? The first time that happened, we’d cancel our DSL subscription.

The most important problem for AT&T could be legal, Wu says. The federal law that shields AT&T from liability for its users’ copyright infringement requires that the company handle data without “selection of the material by the service provider” and “without modification of its content.” In other words, if AT&T’s filter stops some traffic and lets other traffic through, it’s violating those principles. “As the world’s largest gatekeeper,” Wu writes, “AT&T would immediately become the world’s largest target for copyright infringement lawsuits.”

See Also: FCC Goes After Comcast For Internet Interference
Will Comcast’s BitTorrent Throttle Choke P2P CDNs?
AT&T Video Snooping Could Juice VPN Industry
Comcast: We Don’t Throttle BitTorrent
Comcast Vs. Downloads Will Only Get Uglier

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