Customers of Verizon Communications who pirate music files may soon receive an unwelcome letter from the company.
Verizon, the second-largest phone company in the United States, is expected to begin issuing "copyright notices" on behalf of the Recording Industry Association of America to those accused of illegally downloading songs from the Web, according to sources with knowledge of the agreement.
The sources, who asked for anonymity, said Verizon's letter campaign is part of a test, which is expected to begin on Thursday. Jonathan Lamy, an RIAA spokesman, confirmed the existence of the test but declined further comment.
The move is significant for the music industry because among Internet service providers, Verizon has typically been among the most reluctant to intervene in copyright cases on behalf of entertainment companies.
"We recognize the importance of copyright and the need to enforce those copyrights," a Verizon spokesman said in a statement to CNET. "Without that enforcement, intellectual property won't be generated at all. At the same time, it's important for our customers to be assured that they won't have their privacy rights trampled."
The letter the RIAA will send to Verizon, and will likely be forwarded to customers, is similar to those issued in the past by other ISPs, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Cox Communications. The RIAA's letter has typically notified customers that they have been accused of illegally sharing songs and informed them that such activity is illegal.
In the letter, the user is advised to delete the content they distribute. It's important to note that not included in the letter are threats of service termination or interruptions, or any talk of a "graduated response." That's the term the RIAA uses to describe a deterrent program whereby an ISP gradually ratchets up penalties or warnings to suspected file sharers.
Last December, the RIAA announced that it would no longer seek to file new lawsuits against individuals accused of illegal file sharing. Instead, the trade group representing the four largest music labels would try to convince ISPs to adopt a graduated-response program. While some companies, such as Cox, have said they will terminate service for chronic copyright violators, most ISPs have shied away from suggesting service termination.
More importantly, in the 11 months since the RIAA dropped the filing of lawsuits on a widespread basis, not a single ISP has acknowledged a formal agreement with the RIAA.
As for Verizon, it appears that the company is expanding the antipiracy relationships it has with the entertainment sector. In past years, as many of its competitors began to lock arms with entertainment companies, Verizon appeared to hold back. Verizon fought the RIAA when the group went to court to force the ISP to turn over the name of an alleged copyright violator.
Verizon also opposed antipiracy legislation important to the film and music sectors.
Verizon's attitude toward antipiracy seemed to change in 2005, when the company quietly agreed to forward notices to suspected illegal file sharers on behalf of Disney. In exchange, Verizon received the rights to transmit 12 of Disney's TV channels over its broadband network.
Several other ISPs have recently begun forwarding copyright notices on behalf of the film studios, according to the sources who spoke to CNET. It's not yet clear which other ISPs are involved.