Why AT&T's Plans To Filter The Internet Will Only Do More Harm To AT&T (And Everyone Else)

from the not-a-good-idea dept

AT&T announced last summer that it was going to start filtering traffic for copyrighted content -- so we're still not entirely sure why many in the press seem to think it was something new when discussed at CES a few weeks ago. However, this new burst of attention has many more people pointing out all the reasons this is bad for AT&T itself. As we said, this seems to make no sense at all, unless it's some bizarre attempt to come up with an excuse to get rid of net neutrality. In that post, we noted that any filtering would likely open up additional liabilities for AT&T, potentially losing its safe harbors from being a service provider (safe harbors that AT&T itself spent a lot of effort lobbying to have put into the law). Tim Wu has a lot more detail on that aspect of this plan (which he calls "corporate seppuku"). However, there are many other problems for AT&T as well. For example, it won't take long for someone to accuse AT&T of violating wiretap laws, a charge which may be accurate. But the biggest point is that this won't even do what they hope it will do. It won't stop unauthorized transfers from happening and it won't reduce network traffic. As we've discussed in the past, every move to do this kind of filtering will only drive up the market for encryption technologies, and that encryption actually adds more overhead to internet traffic. The PC World article linked above notes that 20% of all bittorrent traffic is encrypted, and if that number goes up, as it will under a filtering regime, the network load will only increase. So, if AT&T actually thinks (as it sometimes claims) that filtering will decrease the burden on the network, it's likely very mistaken.

Filed Under: encryption, filtering, liability, network neutrality
Companies: at&t


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  1. identicon
    Iron Chef, 21 Jan 2008 @ 5:02pm

    Thinking ahead. Rambling here...

    Hmm. So I imagine that ATT would have to maintain an electronic catalog of all copyrigthed works, owners, royalties, etc. This may not be that bad of an idea, because content providers would have a means to identify art.

    All will be good in Content Land until an artist decides to sue for improper use of art. Think of the legal prescedent as "Prnce Vs. Mom 2.0". This would set new legal prescident, maybe it would go as high as The Supreme Court. Fair Use would be challenged, and the industry would be forced to create a business-friendly method for licensing for creation of derivative works using the monitoring technology and catalog system they wanted.

    The output of this is a quite profitable business process outside of the legal process for those with sizable IP portfolios.

    Does this business model create new content? Absolutely, but it's user-generated, outside of The Industry, where people can share with friends and family, and pay 5-cents per play to ASCAP, George Lucas etc.

    In the long term, I find it difficult to see how anyone outside Google/YouTube wins in ten years. Sure, content owners may claim victory in the short term, but the key is capturing that User Generated Content, like YouTube.

    (If your wondering about the reference to Lucas, have you seen Chad Vader series on YouTube?)

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