January 17, 2008 4:00 AM PST

Should AT&T police the Internet?

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Critics also say AT&T's moves could put it and other ISPs in a precarious legal situation by not only admitting that it can filter traffic, but also indicating that it has a responsibility to do so. That is exactly what has happened in Europe. A Belgian court last summer ordered an ISP to use filtering technology to keep pirated content off its network.

"I just think this exposes AT&T to some expensive liability," Wu said. "The fact is that it's not easy to figure out what infringes a copyright and what doesn't. It's difficult to believe that an algorithm could do this when the U.S. Supreme Court is often called upon to answer the same question. And when you're talking about copyright, the liability is huge."

"The fact is that it's not easy to figure out what infringes a copyright and what doesn't. It's difficult to believe that an algorithm could do this when the U.S. Supreme Court is often called upon to answer the same question. And when you're talking about copyright, the liability is huge."
--Tim Wu, law professor, Columbia University

This is exactly why AT&T along with Verizon lobbied Congress more than a decade ago to include a safe harbor in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that essentially protects them from liability when their customers use their networks or search engines to illegally distribute copyrighted material.

These network operators won their fight by arguing that illegal content merely passes through their networks, and it is unreasonable to ask network operators to take on the task of filtering packets to see if they have violated copyright laws. As a result, most of the legal challenges since the DMCA was passed have fallen on peer-to-peer sharing sites and user-generated sites like YouTube and MySpace. YouTube--owned by Google--is currently fending off a $1 billion lawsuit from Viacom for copyright infringement.

But NBC's Cotton says that if operators work in good faith with content providers, legal issues could be avoided.

"We have agreed to put aside getting into an argument of legal responsibilities," Cotton said. "I think what everyone has come to realize is that the situation is not tenable. And if we can work out a set of reasonable steps to reduce the amount of pirated traffic, it's a win-win for their customers as well as for the content companies."

Cotton added that major steps have already been made between big media companies and some user-generated video sites. In October, media companies--including CBS, Fox Entertainment Group, NBC Universal, Viacom, and Disney along with Microsoft, News Corp.'s MySpace.com, and video-sharing sites Dailymotion and Veoh Networks-- agreed to a set of guidelines for using filtering technology and taking down copyrighted content. He also acknowledged that the content community doesn't expect these measures to be fool-proof.

"No one is looking for perfection," he said. "People are prepared to tolerate and accept that that's a reality. The fact is there is a great deal that can be done in various technology environments."

Still, Cotton and others in the entertainment industry believe that monitoring traffic at the network level is a necessity.

"The YouTubes and MySpaces of the world are obvious places to look for copyright infringement," said Steven Weinstein, president and CEO of MovieLabs, the research and development arm of the film industry. "But if we are talking about peer-to-peer traffic, which is how a lot of content is illegally distributed, there is no single entity where the content originates. So the only way to find it is at the ISP level."

But one lingering question remains. Does the technology exist to offer accurate content filtering at the network level? MovieLabs conducted tests last year of about a dozen "digital fingerprinting" technologies from companies such as Gracenote, Vobile, and Audible Magic. Certain products worked well in some environments, like on user-generated Web sites and on university networks, Weinstein said. But using the technology on a large-scale, high-speed carrier network has still not been proven.

That said, developers of this technology are confident it's ready for prime time. They say the bigger hurdle is allaying consumer fears that the technology invades privacy.

"We have the technology to filter traffic today," said Vance Ikezoye, CEO and co-founder of Audible Magic, whose solution is being used by MySpace. "What will take longer to work out are the larger political and public policy issues."

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112 comments

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Child Pornography
I think this a great step forward to get rid of the scumbags who
profit and share Child Pornography on the Internet. Any company
who is willing to take on that responsibility, reporting their findings
with the Authorities, supporting with their technology should be
highly rewarded and recognized.

AT&T, NBC/Universal, et al - Keep up the great work with this!
Posted by dascha1 (638 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Scumbags? Absolutely
Stop child porn? Absolutely, pull out all stops, but what about the rights of the rest of us who don't engage in such vile behavior? What a shortsighted view that fails to consider how it will impact the 99.9% of Americans who are law abiding people. And if you think they are doing this to stop "child porn" you are living in a fantasy world. It is about $$$ and that's all it is about.

You probably think George Bush is leaving the country in better shape than he found it. Great a brain and then use it to see the real implications of what they are doing.
Posted by mikele11111 (166 comments )
Link Flag
Throwing out the baby w/ the bathwater
This isn't North Korea. We have expectations of freedoms in this country. Going to totalitarianism extremes just to stop one problem is worse than the problem itself. NOONE will defend someone involved in child porn, but just like our countries excessive knee jerk reaction's to 9/11, what you advocate is far worse than the original problem. Where does it stop? What happens when the gov't doesn't agree with your opinions?

ISP's are a conduit and nothing more. They are also shielded for this very reason. What you are asking is far beyond their scope and responsibility.

Maybe we should make you see a psychiatrist before you by a pen and some paper, you might write down some threatening words. Want to buy some aspirin, I think you need 14 doctor consultations to make sure you aren't planning on overdosing with that aspirin. Yes, these are fitting analogies.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Link Flag
Nothing to do with Porn...
There is no way for an automated system to know whether the image you are viewing is of a person legal age, younger, or even if the picture is pornographic. So do no think that this is to rid that because that would be incorrect.

This is because media companies have/are treatened AT&T or paid them off to reduce the transfer of copyrighted material. However, this is also a technology that has many false positives, so AT&T customers will find many website downloads will not work and internet radio may be blocked as well.

It is not to protect children, but to protect the bloated revenue of multimillion dollar companies so they can continue to sue 13 years olds and single mothers.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Link Flag
not copyrighted material
since when do pedophiles get awarded copyrights for their sick
$hit?

AT&T is only looking to filter copyrighted material. They are giving
the reach-around to their corporate bedfellows in the media
industry.
Posted by menotbug (93 comments )
Link Flag
Nice Theory
But you are assuming only the guilty will be caught. Let me give you a what if. One that will likely happen to you within your lifetime.

Click a wrong link, next thing you know you are getting pop ups, or sending out emails flooding the internet with dubious content. Illegal in some areas and picked up by the AT&T sniffers. Your computer, You are responsbile, You did it, You get to pay the price. Nevermind that you didn't do anything but click a wrong link and then fix your comptuer.

My only wish is that when you get your wish you get to be the first test case for why I think it's a bad idea.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Link Flag
not
Child porn is not their worry, it is "loss of proffits" It would be nice if this was for our good, but is clearly for THEIR good.
Posted by glencain (7 comments )
Link Flag
It appears AT&T wants to turn the web into cable television...
...where they pick and choose the offerings consumers get to see. Whatever it is they're proposing, it isn't IP routing.

This "advertisement" speculates on what AT&T envisions for the future of the Internet:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://directorblue.blogspot.com/2007/10/comcasts-world-without-network.html" target="_newWindow">http://directorblue.blogspot.com/2007/10/comcasts-world-without-network.html</a>

What the rocket scientists at AT&#38;T can't figure out is that they are dumb pipes, they will always be dumb pipes, and their value-add is making the dumb pipes faster.

Once the carriers get that concept through their skulls, perhaps they could spend their hundreds of millions of dollars on R&#38;D (say, in early investments in companies like Facebook or Google) instead of on beltway lobbyists, lawsuits and campaign contributions.
Posted by directorblue (148 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AT&T has a double standard.
When AT&#38;T is asked to stop slander or fraud on the Internet, they claimed that "It is not our job to police the net. We must remain neutral." Now that their rights may be violated, suddenly they care about violations? They must decide. If they are not content neutral, then they are responsible for very scam and bit of slander posted as well.
Posted by as901 (105 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They aren't violated?
Shield laws? They are an ISP, they are NOT responsible for what end users throw on their pipes. They are just being greedy/cheap, depending on how you look at it. Their bandwidth is maxed out, and they don't want to spend the money to make the pipes fatter. Instead, they want to throttle P2P traffic, instead of upgrading expensive infrastructure.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Link Flag
Is USA the next China..?
Big Brother (or in this case Ma Bell) is watching (and censoring) your every click..
Posted by imacpwr (456 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Depends on next election...
Do we continue down this asinine path we have been on for the last six years, or do we reinstate the Constitution?
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Link Flag
A business cannot censor.
Censorship is a governmental act. As such AT&#38;T cannot censor in the true understanding of the word. That said, you, in the collective sense, are paying to use their services. If you do not like their policies you are always free to move to another service provider. To in anyway liken AT&#38;T to the fictional, Orwellian character of Big Brother is disingenuous in the extreme.
Posted by magicman73 (190 comments )
Link Flag
As Expected
It's about money not about doing the right thing.

They have an inherent conflict when you provide the tunnel for information to flow through and now you want to control what goes through the tunnel in order to sell your own product and exclude others' products. If possible, I will not do business with any company that violates my privacy and constitutional rights.
Posted by mikele11111 (166 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What privacy?
What possible privacy do you think you have an expectation too when you are using their services? Where is there any right to privacy anywhere in the Constitution? They have every right in the world to decide whether or not they will help to protect copyrights.
Posted by magicman73 (190 comments )
Link Flag
Think your lawmakers will protect you? Ha!
If you think your lawmakers will protect you from having your rights trampled on, you are smoking crack. They've already been paid off by lobbyists and campaign contributions with the promise of more money if they do what they have been told.
Posted by mikele11111 (166 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AT&T
AT&#38;T has screwed us via exceptionally high phone bills in the past. They should not be trusted - PERIOD.
Posted by csal77 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Is Big Brother really watching you?
Should a private corporation be allowed to monitor (more than they already do) the Internet traffic? Let me rephrase: would you accept AT&#38;T to tap your phones and cell phones in place of the ?regular authorities??

Major media companies are probably pushing this control mechanism to be implemented because they are greedier and greedier. People do not want to pay $20 for a movie or a music CD anymore. Most teens do not care about ?owning? an original, when they can download from iTunes or rent via Netflix? Controlling the Internet traffic for ?copyrighted material? is an excuse to target consumers and new markets. But then again, who really knows about these companies? motivation.

AT&#38;T?s blabber about the ?valuable network bandwidth? affected by the peer-to-peer protocols is not even based on any serious data. When AT&#38;T plays the customer satisfaction card stating that ?Ultimately, [their] customers and their online experience come first?, we ought to answer this:
95% of the Internet traffic is composed of spam &#38; pornography (let?s not even mention the spam/pornography). If ISPs were really concerned about their customers? experience and satisfaction, they would try to implement filters and legal actions against people using the internet to target us.

ISPs: do you really want your customers to be happy? Use your time, money and energy developing new technologies allowing us to surf faster and cheaper anywhere &#38; everywhere in the country. Create new products, new services in order to help us improve our Internet experience (Google is not an ISP but they sure know how to invest their money to give us the best of the Internet.

The truth is the Internet communications are already under deep scrutiny. If (and when) a private corporation is able and allowed to play on the legal field, there is no more guaranty for privacy and individual freedom. What is the next step? Are we going to be allowed to arrest our neighbor ourselves because we know they use P2P protocols and systems to download music? When did getting the justice in our own hands become acceptable?

I don?t care if my neighbor downloads movies from the eDonkey network, but it would disturb me to know that he is sharing child pornography. How come the filtering technology does not apply in this field?

Let?s be honest for a second: implementing a filter to ?spot? copyrighted material has nothing to do with the will to prevent illegal content from circulating on the web. It is the answer to $-companies that want to make more money!

"Ultimately, our customers and their online experience come first," said Michael Balmoris, a spokesman for AT&#38;T. "This is not about the vast majority of customers who consume content online legally. This is about combating illegal activity.?

Do you seriously believe that we are buying that?
Posted by jowewo (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
what about fair use?
The problem I see with such a system, other than the fact I don't think
it is the ISPs job to police such a thing, is that not all use of copyright
material is illegal. The concept of fair use allows you to use copyright
content in certain circumstances for debate, etc. How in the world
would such a system deal with fair use?

I certainly agree with another commenter that we are on our way to
being China if something like this goes into effect. Of course, we have
sold our souls to the chinese in so many other ways, it should not
surprise us that we begin adopting their big brother ways. Maybe
some of the silicon valley globalist will wake up.

This development just highlights anew the abuse of the copyright
provision in the constitution to protect authors for a limited time by
corporate media who line the pockets of politicians who aid them in
an end-run around the constitution. To these people limited time =
forever and they intend big brother systems like this one to police this
dangerous public policy.
Posted by dsstroud (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fair Use is not an issue...
Without Net Neutrality laws, ISPs can do whatever they want. They can block content, disable services, etc. Since AT&#38;T is now a near monopoly that is getting into TV and thus "copyrighted" material, they are doing what everyone that supports Net Neutrality has said they would do, limit/filter/censor content for their own reward and profit.

Fair Use is not an issue. ISPs will not be suing you or sending you to jail. Just filtering content on THEIR network, and giving "illegal" content less priority than the AT&#38;T "legal" services they provide.
Posted by umbrae (1073 comments )
Link Flag
You all are right and have part of the answer
....but here is where the other shoe drops. I work with the Rat Bastard ISP's....most (not all) have bandwidth maxed out with current technology. ISP' have continued to improve bandwidth through the use of technology. More intelligent routing, packet streamline control etc. There is also one more even darker secret; Large ISP'S, WORLD WIDE HAVE MORE THAN 5X BANDWIDTH CAPACITY SITTING IN THE GROUND AS DARK FIBER. (Unused fiber not turned on.) THIS IS BURIED AND PAID FOR AND ALREADY AMORTIZED. IT IS A LESSON FROM OPEC...THE ISP'S ARE CREATING AN ARTIFICIAL SHORTAGE IN BANDWIDTH. IT IS ABOUT MONEY AND CONTROL. TRUST ME, THEY DON'T CARE ABOUT ANY OF US BEYOND OUR CHECKBOOKS!
Posted by Grumpyz77 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You are absolutely correct
Corporate media's main job is to hide the high crimes of the most powerful people in the world-not shine the light of truth on it.

This is not about scarcity, copyright infringement, pornography, or anything else they tell us. In order to control people and bleed them for all they are worth, problems must be created to justify market manipulation, surveillance and censorship.
Posted by annekauf83 (11 comments )
Link Flag
Monitor one, monitor all?
Deciding to monitor network traffic is a tricky thing. if AT&#38;T implements this policy, then they will not only have to report any illegal activity they find, but also be in the direct legal line of responsibility for any and all illegal activity that happens on their network by their end users. By demonstrating that they have the ability to monitor the traffic, they now are liable for anything that is transmitted on that network.

This could be very dangerous and very expensive for them to implement. If a virus inside a packet meant for P2P traffic gets through to a business, that business could then sue AT&#38;T for damages to their network because AT&#38;T failed to detect it and stop it. Even if they weren't monitoring for it, they demonstrated they *could*, and therefore are liable for negligence. If they weren't monitoring other users and not that particular one, some lawyers could spin that into intentional negligence.

I can easily see a lot of big money lawsuits being leveled at AT&#38;T for this.

There is a reason why private companies aren't used for police departments.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Encryption
If ISPs start inspecting the contents of packets for copy righted material this will only lead to more P2P programs including some basic (or advanced) form of encryption. Many of your major BitTorrent clients already include the ability to encrypt traffic between peers. While this won't limit ISPs ability to 'shape' traffic based on protocol it will hinder their ability to identify the actual materials being transmitted. If they are so bold as to consider trying to reverse this encryption under the veil of protecting their network they'd be opening a very large legal can of worms.

Good try guys......

"Build a better mouse trap and you get smarter mice"
Posted by Orwellian (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Answer: NO!
AT&#38;T is playing fire here. They for damn sure better not block my mp3 files or mpeg files or degrade any of my traffic. They have no business playing content cop on the net. None.
Posted by R. U. Sirius (745 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Internet Should be FREE...Except
The internet doesn't need any policing except:

1. From companies like AT&#38;T and Comcast that want to restrict
access and bandwidth based on whether a site is affiliated with
them or has content that they don't like.

2. Child pornography sites or sites that include non-consensual
content. It would be up to law enforcement to determine this
through legal means - AKA constitutional. Something that the
Bush administrations seems to forget from time to time.
Posted by smcarter (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Should-AT&T-police-the-Internet?
How do you spell -- BIG BROTHER -- just another way to try to take away one of the free things in life...
Posted by zman2121 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So American !
Profits ! Money ! Power ! Capital returns !

Copy right ! My right to unearned moolah !

No decency standards.
No control of child sex trade.
No suppression of sedition.
No anti-corruption.
No law enforcement but one: Money for music.
Posted by Ngallendou (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't ask, don't snoop, don't take responsibility
Does the electric company ask if I'm going to use electricity to
run my computer for piracy? If I'm going to use it for pot grow
lights? If I'm going to use it to electrocute someone? No, and if I
do these things, it isn't their responsibility.

Bit-moving companies should be the same as electricity-
moving companies or water moving companies or any utility.
Just push the bits through the tubes. Don't ask, care, or take
responsibility for the use of the bits. If utilities start policing the
use of the bits, they are going to have to take responsibility for
the uses the bits are put, and be liable. Do they want that
burden? No, and I don't want them in my face, either.
Posted by lepton68 (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You are 100% correct
There is nothing I can add to your post. You make a great point. It is really sad when you think about it.
Posted by josealva17 (30 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Monitor Hackers Instead
Filtering internet traffic to catch people who download free media is the wrong strategic way to begin with. AT&#38;T coppers will get nothing out of it. As for internet hackers, they are out there stealing IDs, information, bank accounts, MONEY!, and many goodies. I think AT&#38;T should begin with supporting or upgrading users Internet security, rather than chasing after mp3 music thiefs.
Posted by GameGuru5000 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Corporate Slow-Pokes
The trick to copyright protection (as I am the biggest victim in history with You Tube) is to disable the anarchaic function that instigates the crime.

We do not need an Intenet Cop (catchy thought), we need the gurfrip system (intelligent reality).

Corporations like AT&#38;T should "RUN" to JP to inquire.

Sincerely,


James Reginald Harris, Jr.
Inventor
Posted by gurfrip (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Policing Feasible?
Anytime there is more than $500 damage to a computer, even if it is intellectual property, a felony has been committed. SHOULD POLICING BE ENCOURAGED? The only way to allow for policing is to establish the dollar amount and cut a budget from that money for governance and policing.

IS POLICING NEEDED? YES!

IS POLICING FEASIBLE? IN SOME CASES!

The service provider is responsible for any damages incurred by any customer as a result of their service provided. THis includes all services. This includes the internet.
Posted by jack1260 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Police this!
The day AT&#38;T or any other corporate entity has their customers' interests at heart is the proverbial cold day in hell.

This is just one way to open a door to policing what we do and say on the Internet. You're a jackass if you think different.

Corporations and their excuses for doing this and filtering that are just one avenue governments explore to exert control over their citizens. Look into the Federal Reserve--they already control the US and Congress. These bankers want to run the world. To do that, they have to know everything about everyone everywhere. Filtering our internet usage under the pretense of looking for copyright violations is just another way to do that. And it is a pretense.

Nowhere do you address the customer's responsibility in all of this. Who choses an ISP? The customer. If that ISP's services wipes out a computer, who's fault is it? The customer who blundered by choosing a crappy ISP in the first place. Caveat emptor.

AT&#38;T can kiss my royal hiney with their flimsey excuses to police and control the Net...and so can anyone who advocates such policies. Taxes always follow and never, never end.

God, and I'm a blonde, too.

Duh.

M.L. Bushman
Posted by novelator (34 comments )
Link Flag
More Failure Points
Great, so now when there is a communications failure to some location or a problem accessing some resource on the internet, I have to not only go through the usual process of testing the communication channel, but I also have to worry that the packets could just be intentionally dropped due to being misidentified as carrying some kind of illegal content. I guess I'll just start telling my users that AT&#38;T is probably dropping their packets intentionally and there is nothing I can do about it every time they complain about not being able to pull up a website or send an email, etc. It's not going to be long before everyone hates AT&#38;T.
Posted by lim3light (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Policed State
Look at the polls. Ron Paul the only candidate of any ilk with any remote desire to return America to the Constitutional values that made her the greatest nation on earth has dismal numbers.
Americans like having the gov't raise their children,steal their paychecks and tell them how to live so as to not have to make any choices on their own.
This is the present and the future for all Americans. Get used to it.
Posted by nedmorlef (49 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AT&T Spy system
How strange, from wishing to avoid the obligation to do it, to wishing to operate it anyway.

Unless AT&#38;T have decided to start wasting cash, I am guessing that they are hoping that subsequently it WILL be required to police the net - and at that point, they will be in a position to extend their services - for a fee of course - possibly even providing services to grudging rivals.

If they develop some nice little patentable search technique and manage to get the government in a few years to insist content IS policed AND it must use the AOL-whizzy algorithm, then this will be a very nice little revenue generator.

In the meantime, in the real world however, a little flurry of utilities will emerge to circumvent the filters. Even something as simple as converting newmovie.avi to passwordedfile.zip is going to pose some interesting problems - are they going to assume the right to hack a password and unzip a file to see if it contains copyrighted material?

If they are only examining packets and not storing them to "build a file", then how exactly will they try and detect anything useful from a packet of avi which has had something as simple as bit rotation applied to it - and how does a packet of newmovie.avi look different from ourwedding.avi ?

What WILL be fun is the plethora of time-waste utilities creative people will come up with that folks who do not like the approach on principle, can use to send out legal files with VERY suspicious looking packets - to give AT&#38;T's computers a little something to do.

Not using your PC for an hour or so? Then load FlipAOL.exe and give them a load of exciting packets to examine - any torrent site worth its salt could have a nice selection of files to waste some AOL bandwidth and keep their little spybots happy when you don't need to upload / download anything else more useful.

This is going to be about as successful as DRM I suspect, but doubtless, someone "with a degree" thinks differently and reckons that his little team can thwart the combined determination of all hackers and crackers globally. I think microsoft thought they could do that with Vista - completely uncrackable apparently (giggles uncontrollably).

How sweet that AOL thinks it can do better. Bless

Mark
Posted by gmtgmt (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's a bunch of tubes, Isn't it?
Are we sure this isn't meant to give ATT and Senator Ted Stevens the justification to throttle down the bandwidth? (Remember that?)
If they "mistakenly" slow down the transmission of an unrelated video (like a live surgery for a doctor's consultation), is it really their fault? It's all in the name of protecting content!

Yeah...Right. They just think we forgot.

After all, some senator still needs his tubes for his missing email.
Posted by JoeKoskovics (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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