Verizon sending antipiracy notices for Hollywood, too

Long considered disinterested in playing copyright cop, Verizon apparently has a change of heart. The company is now forwarding violation notices on behalf of NBC Universal--as well as the RIAA.

Verizon Communications has agreed to forward copyright violation notices on behalf of Hollywood studios, including NBC Universal, multiple sources tell CNET.

The news comes after Verizon began issuing the same type of copyright letters on Thursday--as part of a test--on behalf of the music industry.

In addition to its deals with the Recording Industry Association of America and NBC Universal, Verizon has similar partnerships with an undisclosed number of other film studios and copyright owners, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations. It is unclear when Verizon began issuing the letters for NBC Universal.

A Verizon spokesman declined to comment. In response to questions about the deal, NBC Universal issued a statement:

"We are happy to be working with the ISP community to raise awareness about inappropriate online activity," the company said. "The notice from NBCU that accompanies the ISP's letter includes a link through which consumers can learn about legitimate content online, and provides a number to call if consumers feel they have been contacted in error. We note, however, that virtually no users have contested the accuracy of the notices."

While Verizon has agreed to do little more than forward letters to customers accused of copyright violations, the partnerships signal a shift in the second largest phone company's approach to the copyright wars.

With the exception of a similar agreement struck with Disney in 2005, Verizon has declined to help with antipiracy efforts. In comparison, many of Verizon's competitors have issued the same kind of letters for a long time. Others, including Cox Communications, take much stronger measures in dealing with suspected file sharers, going as far as terminating service of chronic violators.

Still, Verizon's shift is significant because it's more evidence that the big ISPs are now jumping into the piracy fray on the side of big entertainment companies.

The big question is: why now?

At this point there's only speculation but broadband companies have indicated they want greater access to premium TV shows and feature films.

Comcast's attempt to acquire NBC Universal may be one sign that this is occurring. Another is the growing willingness of some major TV networks and film studios to distribute content online. NBC Universal, in partnership with News Corp., created Hulu, the popular Web video service that offers top-rated TV shows and a few feature films. Another example is Sony Pictures' Crackle.com, which offers the largest menu of full-length feature films legally available on the Web.

A greater number of consumers are migrating to the Web for entertainment, and networks and studios know they must be where their audience is. That means TV and film companies are under pressure to turn the Internet into a viable distribution platform.

The draw for consumers is that Hulu and Crackle generate revenue by selling advertisements and offer the shows and films free of charge. In this soft economy, the Web is providing some cable customers an alternative to their cable subscriptions.

If broadband providers strengthen their ties to Hollywood, they might be able to thwart the Internet threat. Here's another reason that broadband providers might want to help end piracy: it's allegedly clogging their pipes.

Whatever the truth is, U.S. file sharers shouldn't fret quite yet. The antipiracy efforts of the entertainment industries appear to be a long way from creating the kind of digital roadblocks that have recently been established overseas.

In France, the government recently passed a law that would require ISPs to cut off Internet access to a repeat offenders. Similar laws have been passed in Taiwan and South Korea.

 

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