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Comcast, Cox cooperating with RIAA in antipiracy campaign

Comcast is among some of the nation's largest ISPs working with the recording industry in its fight against illegal file sharing.

Update: 11:37 a.m. PDT To include quotes from a Cox spokesman.

Update: 4:05 p.m. PDT To include Comcast's statement that the 2 million notices sent out was not part of any new policy.

The Internet service providers that have agreed to work with the recording industry to battle illegal file sharing are starting to come forward.

Joe Waz, a senior vice president at Comcast, the nation's second largest ISP, told a gathering of music industry executives that the company has issued 2 million notices on behalf of copyright owners, according to multiple people who were in attendance.

Comcast said Wednesday afternoon that the 2 million notices Waz referred to were part of the company's standard practice and not a new policy.

"Comcast, like other major ISPs, forwards notices of alleged infringement that we receive from music, movie, videogame, and other content owners to our customers," Comcast said in a statement. "This is the same process we've had in place for years--nothing has changed. While we have always supported copyright holders in their efforts to reduce piracy under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and continue to do so, we have no plans to test a so-called 'three-strikes-and-you're-out' policy."

Comcast SVP Joe Waz
Comcast's Joe Waz, in a photo from March 2008. Declan McCullagh/CNET

Waz made the comments Tuesday while part of a panel at the Leadership Music Digital Summit in Nashville. This was the same event where an AT&T executive told the gathering that the nation's largest ISP was cooperating with the Recording Industry Association of America by sending notices to customers accused of illegal filing sharing. The letters are part of a trial program, the executive told the audience.

In addition, sources confirmed that Cox Communications is also assisting the RIAA in the group's new campaign to use ISPs to help discourage consumers from pirating songs.

In December, the RIAA shocked music fans by announcing the termination of a years-long strategy of filing copyright lawsuits against individuals. Instead, the lobbying group for the major recording companies would seek the help of Internet providers. The RIAA said it had lined up a group of large ISPs to help, but declined to disclose which ones or how many.

To copyright owners, the shift in strategy is a victory. For a long time, people in the music and film industries have complained that broadband providers were profiting from piracy. Many in the entertainment industry have called on ISPs to lend a hand in plugging up the flow of illegal content.

To those who advocate for Internet users, however, any plan that threatens to shut off someone's Internet access without hard evidence is unfair. RIAA leaders have said that the group's graduated response program would include punitive action for repeat offenders, which could include suspension or even termination of service. RIAA managers say they support due process to protect people from being falsely accused. But what the due process looks like has yet to be determined.

Comcast was careful to state that it isn't considering terminating customers' service.

An AT&T spokeswoman said that the ISP has not threatened anyone with the disabling of service but acknowledged that warning letters sent to customers, the company says it reserves the right to terminate service.

She said the company sends a letter from the RIAA and adds its own cover letter. The company informs the customer that the problem could be that a teenager in the home has downloaded unauthorized material or that someone else is doing so via an unsecured Wi-Fi connection.

As far as Cox is concerned, the practices that the RIAA is asking ISPs to adopt have been standard since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed in 1998. The company acknowledges that it will, in the case of chronic offenders, shut off service. A Cox spokesman said this about the company's policy:

When we receive notifications from RIAA or other copyright holders stating that their copyrighted material is being infringed by a customer, we pass that information along to the customer so they can correct the problem, or dispute the notice directly with the copyright holder if they feel the notice was sent in error. This notification is the most helpful thing we can do for the customer and is expected of us, as an ISP, under the DMCA. We attach a copy of the notice from the copyright holder with our message to the customer.

The spokesman said that the company has issued "hundreds of thousands" of warnings to customers but has terminated service on less than one tenth of 1 percent.

There's data to support the claim that warning notices work. In the United Kingdom, research done by Wiggin and Entertainment Media Research found that seven out of 10 people surveyed said they would stop downloading unauthorized content if they received a notice from their ISP.

Note to readers: Have you received a warning letter from AT&T or another ISP? If so, e-mail me by clicking on the link in my bio below. Please include your contact information. I won't reveal your name in any story if that's what you prefer.

Research in the United Kingdom shows that 70 percent of those surveyed would stop pirating music if they received a notice from their ISP. Wiggin