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Published: 8/31/2010

RIAA: Google Should Include Copyright in Net Neutrality Plan

By: Chloe Albanesius

Several music organizations, including the Recording Industry Association of America, penned a Wednesday letter to Google encouraging the company to include protections against copyright infringement and child pornography in its net neutrality plan.

The groups said they were "deeply interested" in Google's joint policy proposal with Verizon as it relates to protecting copyrighted content.

"The Internet has become a crucial part of the music discovery process and a central platform for commerce," the groups wrote in a letter to Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. "Our ability to invest in and create the next generation of music is grounded on crafting Internet policies and procedures that respect intellectual property."

Any Internet policy must allow ISPs to "take measures to deter unlawful activity such as copyright infringement and child pornography," they wrote.

The Google-Verizon plan would protect the tenets of net neutrality, or an open Internet, on the Web, but would not extend that protection to the wireless industry. Exemptions would also be available to any non-Internet related service a broadband provider might decide to provide in the future.

To go into effect, the plan would have to be adopted by the Federal Communications Commission – which is moving forward with a net neutrality plan that does not exempt wireless – or a member of Congress. So far, four Democratic House members have spoken out against the Google-Verizon deal, and urged the FCC to move forward alone.

At issue is an ISP's right to manage its network. The idea behind net neutrality is that an ISP should have the right to manage that network as long as it does not discriminate against particular applications. It can slow down the network at peak times to ease congestion, but cannot favor one service over another and block a site like BitTorrent.

When the debate about net neutrality and network management first started, many ISPs argued that network management was necessary in order to protect networks from harmful elements like viruses, infringing material, and child pornography. Naturally, a group like the RIAA is going to want ISPs to be able to police their own networks and crack down on illegal or questionable content.

A lot of that pirated content can be found on BitTorrent, for example. Comcast was accused of blocking BitTorrent in 2007, a controversy that kicked off this whole net neutrality debate. Under net neutrality rules, that would not be allowed. A company would have the right to manage its network, but that management must not be "unreasonable," and the ISP must be transparent about its policies.

"The current legal and regulatory regime is not working for America's creators," the groups concluded. "Our businesses are being undermined, as are the dreams and careers of songwriters, artists, musicians, studio technicians, and other professionals. That's why we look forward to working with you, other stakeholders, the FCC and the Congress to make the distinction between lawful and unlawful relevant in the marketplace so that the Internet fulfills its promise for consumers, subscribers, providers, creators and business."

The other groups that signed the letter included: the American Association of Independent Music; the American Federation of Musicians; the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers; Broadcast Music, Inc.; the California Songwriters Association; the Music Managers Forum; the National Music Publishers Association; the Nashville Songwriters Association International; SESAC; SoundExchange; and The Recording Academy.

Verizon, meanwhile, published a blog post Thursday morning criticizing a USA Today op-ed about its net neutrality plan with Google.

The editorial said the Google-Verizon plan would "disrupt the long-standing principle that everyone — users and content providers alike — is treated equally on the Web." It would also "freeze the traditional landline Internet at current capacity levels," the paper wrote. The wireless exemption, meanwhile, might require app developers to work "under the wings of one of the incumbent powers molding and controlling the wireless Internet."

In a rebuttal, Verizon's public policy spokesman David Fish wrote that USA Today ignored elements that benefit consumers and the Internet.

"The non-discrimination provision and presumption against any prioritization is stronger than what the FCC could obtain through its threatened imposition of old-world telecom regulations on broadband networks," Fish wrote.

"The Google-Verizon proposal does not 'freeze the traditional landline Internet'; it takes steps to prevent that," he concluded. "And the charge that we would 'limit users' to content and applications of carriers' choosing is ridiculous."

All this, meanwhile, comes ahead of reports that lobbyists have resumed talks about net neutrality – without Google or the FCC. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Information Technology Industry Council is heading up talks on the issue with companies like Cisco and Microsoft at the table.