AT&T teams up with the RIAA and MPAA to fight piracy

First ISP to team up with copyright holders to to keep pirated content off its network.

It seems AT&T Inc is joining forces with the MPAA and RIAA to keep pirated content off its internet network, making it the first ISP to do so, and perhaps heralding a new age where providers begin to police the content shared on their networks.

Many ISPs have been the frequent subject of criticism for not doing more to crack down on customers who download and shared pirated content illegally. They have, in the past, required court orders to single out customers whose IP addresses have been under scrutiny by the MPAA or the RIAA, never being proactive in this pursuit over fears of angering customers who could easily switch carriers.

For the first time an ISP seems to not care, actually joining forces with the MPAA and the RIAA “…to develop anti-piracy technology that would target the most frequent offenders, said James W. Cicconi, an AT&T senior vice president.”

The obvious reason would seem to be that it’s attempting to free up bandwidth resources, as P2P and file-sharing programs make up something like 2/3 of network traffic on average but, it seems that the real reason is to actually help defend its fledgling new cable TV service.

It recently launched a new cable TV service called U-verse in a handful of cities and neighborhoods across the country, and apparently has come to the realization that it too is now a content provider and so must take a stand against customers who would try to get content for free using its internet network.

AT&T’s top leaders decided to help the MPAA, and thereby the RIAA by default, in protecting copyrighted content since it is now a provider of such material.

“We are pleased that AT&T has decided to take such a strong, proactive position in protecting copyrights,” Viacom said in a prepared statement. “AT&T’s support of strong anti-piracy efforts will be instrumental in developing a growing and vibrant digital marketplace and will help ensure that they have a steady stream of great creative content to deliver to their consumers.”

Last week, execs from a number of Hollywood studios met with AT&T execs to devise a “…technology that would stem piracy but not violate privacy laws or Internet freedoms espoused by the Federal Communications Commission.”

But, the EFF doubts such claims are tenable commenting that “The risk AT&T faces is fighting the last war by spending money and energy plugging an old hole in the wall when new ones are breaking out,” and that “The answer should be to figure out how to turn them into paying customers.”

Other critics like Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group.also criticized the plan noting that “AT&T is going to act like the copyright police, and that is going to make customers angry.” She furthered that The good news for AT&T is that there’s so little competition that where else are the customers going to go?”

This is what’s really most disturbing in all of this. With the number of ISPs providing reliable home broadband connection service limited to oftentimes a single choice in many cities, a customer doesn’t have the ability to switch to an alternative if he disagrees with AT&T closely monitoring his traffic on their network.