Net neutrality regulations could, if the music industry gets its way, usher in more Internet surveillance and a crackdown on suspected pirates.
This week, just about every music trade group called for broadband policies--which could include a new federal law--that would "encourage" Internet providers to crack down on suspected piracy by their customers.
"The current legal and regulatory regime is not working for America's creators," the groups, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), said Wednesday in a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. "Our businesses are being undermined, as are the dreams and careers of songwriters, artists, musicians, studio technicians, and other professionals."
The music groups' letter came in response to a joint proposal that Google and Verizon Communications released last week. Their proposal says that Americans will "have access to all legal content on the Internet," which leaves open the questions of access to illegal content and who decides what material may violate copyright law.
The Internet should be "predicated on order, rather than chaos," wrote the 13 groups that signed the letter, which also included the American Federation of Musicians, the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, and the National Music Publishers Association. It said that broadband providers must "take measures to deter unlawful activity such as copyright infringement."
Google and Verizon's proposal, which is not suggested legislation but rather a collection of concepts, represents the companies' attempt to craft a workable compromise and bring some finality to the often-chaotic discussions of which regulations could be imposed on tomorrow's Internet. The proposal recommends giving the Federal Communications Commission explicit regulatory authority, but stops short at extending that power to wireless broadband.
This isn't the first time that the RIAA has proposed injecting Net neutrality regulations with a stiff dose of copyright policing.
In January, the RIAA asked the FCC to "adopt flexible rules" that push Internet service providers to fight copyright infringement, which could involve pulling the plug on repeat offenders (a concept that has popped up in international treaty discussions too). And in 2008, the RIAA warned that one Democratic proposal could accidentally limit forms of "network management" used to police networks for copyright infringement.
At the moment, under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a Internet service provider generally "shall not be liable" for copyright infringement if it is merely providing a conduit for someone else's transmissions. But Congress could rewrite that law and chip away at the broad shield it now provides.
Disclosure: The reporter is married to a Google employee not involved in these discussions.