ISPs Get Into the Piracy Policing Game

Providers have agreed to slow Internet service for those who illegally share content

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The new enforcers of illegal internet piracy aren't the courts that award damages to trade groups such as the Rcording Industry Association of America, and they're not police who arrest the operators of pirate sites. Now, Internet service providers themselves have taken on the role of punishing those who illegally share copyrighted content. Yesterday's announcement that ISPs would cooperate with the RIAA and Hollywood studios to police Internet activity came after years of negotiations. Under the deal, AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable have agreed to send users who pirate content increasingly stern warnings, and if they don't stop, to slow the user's service dramatically or stop it altogether.

As The New York Times explains, the deal is the result of the increasing closeness of those who provide the Internet and those who create much of its content.

In bringing together the media companies and Internet carriers, the deal demonstrates how the once-clear line separating those two businesses has been blurred. Eight years ago, the Recording Industry Association of America had to sue Verizon to try to uncover the identity of a customer who was sharing music online. This year, Comcast completed its merger with NBC, bringing an owner of digital content and a conduit for it under the same roof.

But CNET noted that the ISPs, for the most part, came to the deal "kicking and screaming" after three years of talks.

The ISPs dread spooking subscribers, or to appear to be spying on them. It's possible the agreement would have never been completed had U.S. President Barack Obama and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who got involved in the negotiations as early as 2007, not pressured both sides to cut a deal.

Cuomo, who was then New York's attorney general, got involved because he believed that it was good for the state for two of the leading industries to get along and help each other, Steve Cohen, Cuomo's chief of staff, told CNET today. Up until that point, the film and music sectors were in attack mode, accusing bandwidth providers of profiting from piracy. Cuomo recognized that a deal that benefited both sides could be reached without lawsuits or any serious government intervention, Cohen said.

In the end, savvy pirates will still probably be able to get away with sharing music and movies, but as CNET pointed out, the move is a bid to "tip the scales" away from piracy for the average Internet user. "Maybe a $7.99-a-month Netflix subscription or a 99-cent charge for an iTunes' song becomes more attractive if the cost of piracy is a slower Web connection or the complete loss of Web access."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.