RIAA, music industry step into net neutrality debate once again

In a letter to Google chief Eric Schmidt, RIAA and 12 other music industry groups asked that any proposal on the issue of net neutrality be specific in taking steps to combat copyright infringement and child pornography. The inclusion of pornography in the industry's request is somewhat unusual considering none of the groups listed are active participants in any anti-pornography efforts.

The groups feel that any proposal should permit ISPs to take action against these issues. While the proposal put forth by Google and Verizon does address 'unlawful content,' it is not specific as to what that may entail.

"We all share the goal of a robust Internet that is highly accessible, secure and safe for individuals and commerce," the letter reads. "An Internet predicated on order, rather than chaos, facilitates achievement of this goal."

Asking for some type of provision over copyright protection is nothing new to the industry: executives pushed for a similar statement in the FCC's National Broadband Plan, and they have asked for a distinction in previous net neutrality discussions. However, this is the first time the industry is doing so in a public matter.

RIAA's moves could be due to the failure of the industry to get control of piracy through legal channels. A review of tax documents from 2006 to 2008 indicate that while RIAA spent over $58 million in lawyer fees, it only managed to recover about $1.4 million in restitution.

That failure may be the reason why the music industry is now turning to ISPs themselves to curb so-called "unlawful" traffic in an effort to fight pirates in a much more cost-effective way.

"The current legal and regulatory regime is not working for America's creators," the groups continue. "Our businesses are being undermined, as are the dreams and careers of songwriters, artists, musicians, studio technicians, and other professionals."

Such a move likely will not be popular with net neutrality proponents, who have already pushed back on efforts to define what is lawful and what is not when it comes to Internet traffic. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has said it believes such proposals could be used to limit free speech, noting that the industry had tried a similar tact last year.

In working on its own proposal for net neutrality, the FCC included a provision that allowed the ISPs to block content in an effort to prevent copyright infringment from occurring.

"Neutrality regulations should not excuse ISPs that discriminate against or block innocent content just because they claim it was done to protect copyrights or cater to law enforcement," EFF senior staff attorney Fred von Lohmann said in January.

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