AT&T Is RIAA's First ISP Ally

The bad news, at least for some, is that AT&T will begin sending warning notices to its internet service customers who engage in illegal file sharing. The good news is that this is the Recording Industry Association of America's new alternative to filing mass lawsuits.

For the past five years, RIAA has filed tens of thousands of lawsuits against illegal file sharers. This strategy attracted much criticism and didn't prevent the industry's sales figures from nosediving. In December, RIAA announced a new plan: Persuade ISPs to threaten rogue customers, as identified by the RIAA, with multiple warnings, possibly culminating in loss of service. AT&T is the first major ISP to cooperate with RIAA, the company announced on Tuesday.

While AT&T has agreed to send a series of notices to customers whose numerical internet addresses have been identified with illicit file-sharing activity, it has not signed on with the RIAA's "graduated response" policy, which would cut off P2P-crazy customers who ignore the notices. "AT&T is not going to suspend or terminate anyone's policy without a court order," a company executive said. However, he added, "it seems to engender a good response from customers, and we've seen a fairly dramatic drop-off in file-sharing activity once people receive a notice, so we feel this works."

Other ISPs have varying policies. Cox has been doing it for years, though not at the behest of the RIAA, and has occasionally restricted access for multiple abusers. Comcast has also forwarded notices but has not progressed to sanctions. Whether these companies will also participate in the RIAA program is unclear but Verizon says it will not. Australia's third-largest ISP refuses to even admit it has file-sharing customers.

No doubt the ISPs will be watching the AT&T test closely. Consumers may feel some discomfort at the notion that their ISPs have taken on copyright enforcement. But the end of the RIAA's assaultive and counterproductive lawsuit program can only be regarded as good news.

See original and follow-up reports in and ArsTechnica.