Copyright, the RIAA and Net Neutrality

When a new controversy rears its head on the Web, I'm always looking over my shoulder for the RIAA. Their heavy-handed tactics and incredibly poor decisions have irreparably damaged the ability of small copyright holders to protect their works, turned copyright into a dirty word and all without doing anything to prevent piracy.

This combination of disgust and distrust makes it natural for me to look for them in every major Web-related discussion. Net neutrality is no different.

However, after pondering the issue and researching it, I realize that this may be one time in which the RIAA, MPAA and others might actually be making a play. The signs are all there and the potential danger is very clear.

All one has to do is look at the Net Neutrality debate from a different angle.

A Quick Primer

For those unfamiliar with the idea of net neutrality, it mainly has to do with how data gets from A to B on the Web. Currently, with only some restrictions, all sites are given equal treatment. Traffic from Google is not put before traffic from Yahoo.

Some telecoms want to change that. They want to be able to charge Google for access to “fast lanes” that enable it to move quicker than its competitors. This has caused many to worry about the creation of a two-tiered Web where sites that can afford access to the fast lanes do so and sites that can't, suffer. Many are working on legislation to keep that from happening.

Telecoms, on the other hand, see the matter as one of government interference. They want the government to remain “hands off” when it comes to network neutrality and let them decide how to apply their own networks.

However, some level of tiering already takes place. Many ISPs actively limit traffic on Bittorrent and other P2P networks. Though this is mostly out of necessity since such applications eat up a great deal of resources, it might be a sign of what's to come.

Turning Down the Juice

Most of the talk on the Web regarding Net Neutrality has revolved around the creation of a two-tiered Web and whether it will actually motivate telecoms to expand their infrastructure. However, the quickest and cheapest way to increase network capacity isn't to build new “pipes”, but rather, to limit access to unwanted sites.

In short, you can improve access to site A by simply restricting access to site B, even without paying a dime in new equipment. Without net neutrality being enforced, this is a very real danger.

This could, theoretically, forge a very strange partnership between the RIAA/MPAA and the telecoms. Telecoms don't want to spend bandwidth on users file sharing or illegal downloads and the RIAA and company doesn't want their material pirated.

Believe allofmp3.com is a pirate? Have the telecoms reduce their bandwidth to nearly nil, making it almost useless. Are Bittorrent users illegally copying your material? Limit the protocol until it's almost useless. Youtube displaying copyrighted clips? Turn it down until the videos can't play.

Meanwhile, general Web surfers will watch as their regular sites load faster and work better and will, blindly, applaud the telecoms for their effort.

A Conspiracy Theory

Granted, there's no hard evidence of such a collusion and no announcement has been made. However, there is circumstantial evidence that is interesting.

First, many have noted that the RIAA has been unusually quiet in recent months, their last formal subpeona announcement dating back to Feb. though they recently sent cease and desist letters to some Youtube users this isn't the heavy-handed suit-happy RIAA we've come to know.

Combine that with the fact that the RIAA has yet to significantly weigh in on the net neutrality debate, at least not publicly, and you have cause for concern. Though they would be directly affected by the lack of net neutrality, especially services like Itunes, they have not joined the Save the Internet Coalition and have been relatively mum on the issue.

There appears to be a change in the making for the RIAA's battle against file sharing and it's possible that net neutrality is the battle front it will be waged on. A scary thought, but one that has to be considered.

Conclusions

As someone who is always wary of the RIAA and looking out for their next move, their silence, especially right now, worries me. I could be wrong and this whole trend could be about the RIAA simply going gently into the night, but I doubt it.

If I am wrong, they're just waiting to come from a completely new direction.

No matter what though, the RIAA doesn't represent me, even as a Webmaster very concerned with plagiarism and content theft, I find their acts reprehensible.

In the end, that's the real RIAA tragedy. For every artist they represent, there are tens of thousands that they don't, but still suffer the backlash of their heavy-handed tactics.

[tags]plagiarism, content theft, copyright infringement, riaa, mpaa, net neutrality[/tags] 

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