Sunday, 8 August 2010
If there is no net neutrality, is there now a new net liability?
One of the recent gripes from the music industry is that as the internet has developed, internet service providers (ISPs), link sites and search engines have profited hugely from the illegal and infringing activities of their users, with ‘free’ music massively driving up site visits and traffic on the net. The games, TV and film industries see themselves next in line as broadband rolls out across the globe. The content owners also blame the ISPs, links sites and search engines of doing little or nothing to halt this huge flow of data, sometimes criticising ‘safe habour’ provisions in legislation (eg in the USA and European Community) for giving ISPs near blanket protection as ‘dumb pipes’ whose role is simply to facilitate the delivery of data. It hasn’t all gone the way of the ISPs, links sites and search engines and MGM v Grokster was a wake up call, although most link sites still feel safe behind the protection of the detail of the US Supreme Court’s judgment and ‘fair use’ cases such as Google v Perfect 10. This is of course which is why record labels and other content owners have so readily embraced the so called ‘three strikes’ laws in Taiwan, France, New Zealand, South Korea and the UK, not least as it puts at least a limited obligation on ISPs to police their customers traffic and take relevant action over repeat infringers.
News of the new commercial tie up between Google and ISP Verizon made me think again. In the new deal, Verizon appear to be agreeing to prioritise Google’s internet traffic – removing so called “Net Neutrality” where all data is considered equal, and allowing Google’s information to move faster and more efficiently around the globe. But surely if an ISP can prioritise information in this way, they move from being a dumb pipe to a very smart pipe indeed – and surely this must lead to the conclusion that if they can ‘prioritise’ traffic (if paid) they could also do the reverse – and easily block infringing material. Of course asking an ISP to block or filter material brings up a host of question relating to human rights, censorship and privacy BUT – it does at least give the content owners some new ammunition in the fight to monetise their copyrights – and might take away one of the main props used by ISPs to excuse themselves from engaging in policing the web.