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
    Rekrul, 24 Jan 2008 @ 7:25pm

    Nope. The DMCA protects them against that.

    Wrong. The DMCA protects them NOW and that's only because ISPs like AT&T lobbied hard to get a provision written into the DMCA that says they are immune from liability for what their users do on their networks because they don't know what their users are doing. When the DMCA was being formed, they argued that it was unrealistic to expect them to police what their users were doing. They said that like the phone company, they merely provide the lines, they don't snoop on what their customers are doing with those lines. The exception being that when informed of copyright infringement on their network, they are required to take action to stop it. Either by taking a web site offline, or disconnecting the user who was sharing the material, etc.

    Once an ISP says "Yup, we can filter the illegal material passing through our network." the content providers can say "Well, you're not doing a very good job since xxxxx got through. You failed to block it, which means you're facilitating copyright infringement."

    Realistically, the RIAA and MPAA might adopt an attitude of "You can't filter everything, but at least you're on our side, so we're not going to sue you over what gets through.", although this is far from certain. However, smaller companies will probably feel no such loyalty. They'll see their works sneaking past the filters, their lawyers will smell blood and AT&T will be slapped with lawsuits.

    If they go through with this, I'd seriously consider producing some kind of video content and putting it on a web site for sale, just to be able to get my slice of the liability pie when AT&T's filtering system fails to block it.

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