More on Verizon and its antipiracy efforts

A CNET story about termination notices caused quite a stir among readers and denials from the carrier. Here's a deeper look at our reporting and what the company now says it's willing to do with repeat copyright violators.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read

CNET published a story Wednesday morning headlined "Verizon ends service of alleged illegal downloaders." In it, Verizon spokeswoman Bobbi Henson was quoted saying the company has "cut some people off" after they were accused multiple times of illegal file sharing.

That evening, Henson said David Carnoy, a CNET executive editor, misquoted her multiple times. "Your notes are wrong," Henson wrote in an e-mail to Carnoy. Other media outlets have since reported that Henson continues to say she was misquoted.

CNET stands behind Carnoy's story, and we thought we should tell our readers why.

In short, Verizon says it has a program that in some cases could result in customers losing their service if they ignore repeated requests to stop illegal file sharing. But, differing from what Carnoy was originally told, the carrier now says its program of sending warning letters to customers accused of illegal file sharing has never resulted in service interruption.

Anyone following the music, film, or telecom industries would recognize the situation has serious implications for Verizon, one of the nation's largest telecom companies, as well as for the music and film industries and Verizon's customers. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America have long attempted to enlist the help of major Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon in their antipiracy efforts.

According to several Hollywood sources, Verizon began sending out warning letters for the film studios last spring. In November, CNET reported that Verizon had begun to test the sending of warning letters on behalf of the music industry as well.

The major record labels have outlined a basic plan it wants ISPs to follow: send a series of e-mail warnings to accused illegal file sharers and in extreme cases--for chronic copyright infringers--disrupt, suspend, or terminate service. This is called the "graduated response" program and it is the bedrock of the RIAA's antipiracy plan.

To date, not a single major ISP has publicly acknowledged adopting a graduated response, yet Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast have for some reason stepped up the issuing of warning letters.

After receiving a copy of one of these warning letters from a reader, Carnoy was skeptical about whether an e-mail could discourage anybody from pirating content. He called Henson to find out whether sending letters was all there was to Verizon's deterrent program. In the telephone conversation, Carnoy wrote down that Henson said this: "We've cut some people off. We do reserve the right to discontinue service. But we don't throttle bandwidth like Comcast was doing. Verizon does not have bandwidth caps."

Carnoy also noted that in his follow-up interview with Henson, when he again asked her about cutting off customers accused of copyright infringement. "Have you been forced to pass on anybody's info to a copyright owner since you started sending e-mails out?" Carnoy wrote Henson in his e-mail. "Also, about how many people have you cut off? Hundreds? Thousands? Looking for any numbers you can give."

Henson said this in her e-mail response: "David, we don't give out these numbers, but I can tell you that they are small. Our impression is that litigation in this area is significantly down and to the extent that we get subpoenas or court orders, they are isolated and not at all widespread. Same goes for disconnections. These are not things we want to do and the purpose of the notification program is to educate customers and give them every opportunity to understand and take action to download legally."

Since the story first posted, Verizon sent Carnoy a statement saying the company's warning-letter program has not resulted in a single service interruption. After receiving Verizon's statement, Carnoy again asked Verizon representatives whether Verizon had ever booted anybody from its service for copyright violations.

Verizon declined to comment.

Verizon has in the past made it clear that anyone accused multiple times of copyright infringement risks losing their Internet service. Henson also sent Carnoy a copy of a note the company posted to Verizon.net last April.

"Please note that customers who receive multiple notices from Verizon risk having their Internet service interrupted or turned off," Verizon wrote, "and serious legal consequences if the copyright owner decides to sue over the alleged infringement."