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Verizon snubs Hollywood’s request to filter pirated content

It’s taken a while, but it seems that someone is finally making some sense in the debate on whether network owners should be trying to stop pirated content from crossing their networks. The folks at Verizon looked at the issue of filtering for copyrighted content and said, No thanks, we’re all set. A company spokesman told The New York Times this week that Verizon found a number of problems with trying to weed out copyrighted content, including infringing on the privacy of its customers and the “slippery slope” that could result in other third parties expecting the company to start filtering out pornography, offshore gambling traffic, etc. Tom Tauke, Verizon’s VP of public affairs also said this:

When you look back at the history of copyright legislation, there has been an effort by Hollywood to pin the liability for copyright violations on the network that transmits the material. It is no secret they think we have deeper pockets than others and we are easy-to-find targets.

Good for Verizon.

There are any number of reasons that Verizon, AT&T and other network operators should not be looking for copyrighted content on their networks, and Tauke is right on with his description of the hazards this misguided idea presents. It is the responsibility of the copyright holders themselves–not the network owners, ISPs or anyone else–to find people who infringe on their copyrights and enforce those rights. Demanding that network operators do this for them smacks of intimidation and laziness on the part of the Hollywood big shots. It also shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the problem.

The epidemic of illegal file-sharing is no more the fault of the network operators than it is of the PC manufacturers. Sure, both of their products are used in the process, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the individual who is downloading pirated material. The executives at the record labels and movie studios understand this, of course, but they’ve had precious little success going after individual file-sharers, and even when they do get someone to settle, it’s for a relatively small dollar amount. So they take a look around and see who in this pipeline has the most resources, and their gaze inevitably settles on the network operators. At least one operator, AT&T, has shown a willingness to filter out copyrighted content, but thankfully Verizon and the other large telecoms have so far resisted the pressure from Hollywood.

I’m not naive enough to think that Verizon is doing this solely out of some altruistic concern for its customers’ privacy. The kind of filtering it would take to look for pirated content would cost the company a lot of money and also likely would cost Verizon customers. So there’s plenty of self-interest at work here. But the company deserves credit for not laying down for the studios and record labels on this.

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