US ISPs agree to a penalty system for copyright violators – What about spammers?

Major Internet Service Providers in the United States, including Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T, Cablevison Systems, and Comcast, have agreed upon a plan, backed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA.) The plan provides for participating ISPs to disrupt services for customers “guilty” of habitual copyright violations, starting with warnings, proceeding through bandwidth throttling and then to site redirections to “educational” sites addressing copyright infringement. There is little information about how the infringers are detected or found to be guilty, but that is not what I am addressing here. (Warning: Rant approaching) What I want to know is why ISPs can take the approach of enforcing copyright on behalf of the RIAA and MPAA, but cannot do the same or more to enforce things like the CAN-SPAM Act?

The United States is the largest source of SPAM in the world, and the ISPs listed above include some of the largest in the United States. (Disclosure: I am a TWC customer). If they are capable of filtering customers’ Internet traffic, detecting the downloading/sharing of copyrighted materials, and then altering the offenders’ traffic as a result, why can’t they do the same for spammers. How much easier would it be for a traffic analyzer to detect hundreds or thousands of SMTP connections coming from a home user than it must be to detect the download of a large binary, which then must be buffered and analyzed to determine whether it is a legitimate ISO or a pirated movie?

I am not advocating piracy; I think copyright holders should be allowed to enforce their rights. But I am distressed that organizations with deep pockets like the RIAA and MPAA can get ISPs to implement complicated filtering systems that can then enforce actions on individual customers, but these same ISPs are apparently not doing anything to prevent spammers from using their networks to send out millions of junk messages every day.

What I would like all of the readers who are customers of the ISPs listed above to do is this: use the contact form on your ISP’s website, or the contact email address, to send your ISP a simple question; ask them why they are able to detect and respond to copyright violations, but not to spammers. Don’t be rude – that never does anyone any good at all. Simply raise the question of why spammers are not being filtered, their bandwidth restricted, their web surfing redirected to sites educating them on the evils of spamming.

As individuals, we will never have the budgets of the MPAA and RIAA, so we may not get the attention of the executives, but if the customer service contacts receive several thousand questions, it might just get a little bit of notice. Ask the question, and if you actually get an answer other than from an autoresponder, post the reply as a comment to this article. Let’s see if there is anyone listening to the customers.

Written by Ed Fisher

An InfoTech professional, aficionado of capsaicin, and Coffea canephora (but not together,) I’ve been getting my geek on full-time since 1993, and have worked with information technology in some capacity since 1986. Stated simply, if you need to get information securely from a to b, I’m your guy. I’m like "The Transporter," but for data, and without the car. And with a little more hair.


  1. Elaine Tjom · July 14, 2011

    It’s good to know that this kind of system exist – but for how long? I hope the membership will expand to include other major players in and outside the US (especially in China where copyright violations is considered to be the worst in the world).

    Ed, do you have the full statement of the penalty system? I would just like to take a look at it a little more closely.

  2. Chris Watanabe · July 15, 2011

    A smart and noble call to action, though the direct problem is definitely one you already highlighted – lobbyists and budgets. The problem with wide sweeping legislation like this is that the individual’s vote – cast in dollars – becomes largely null and void. Some may have the luxury of a quality local ISP offering comparable services. Most do not.

  3. Mr. Michaels · July 15, 2011

    Several news agencies are also saying that this is backed by the Obama administration, meaning the US government maybe funding this setup. I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. I just don’t agree with the idea that some of our taxes are paid to fight off copyright violators and spammers.

    We are in great financial crisis right now – the weak economy, unemployment, and the debt ceiling. All the money should come from these big multinational ISPs and not from the government.

  4. Mr. Hannover · July 15, 2011

    Articles like this highlight the level of ignorance most people have with reguard to email marketing. Far too often it’s the SPAM button hit by uneducated recipients of email (that they opted in for) because they think that’s the way to unsubscribe from future mailings. Then there’s always the issue of how to CORRECTLY IDENTIFY spammers vs. legitimate email marketers. And I won’t even go into the whole SMTP thing because you clearly have no technical and/or working knowledge of how REAL email marketers operate. This article is nothing more than an attempt to encite a witch hunt. AGAIN.

  5. Ed Fisher · July 15, 2011

    Chris, you’re right. Not everyone has a quality ISP or even a choice. Too often there is only one ‘real’ option for those wanting highspeed, and as a result the consumer is held over the barrel.

    Mr. Michaels, I’m sure taxpayers footed the bill for several meetings and other soft charges, but I believe the administration was promoting this as a preferable alternative to legislation, not funding this. I have nothing to support that directly, but that is what I believe to be the case. If I am wrong, then I too think that is wrong.

  6. Ed Fisher · July 18, 2011

    Mr. Hannover,
    Your comment almost reads like SPAM itself, considering it doesn’t quite line up with the article. I never made any assertion about email marketing at all, nor did I call for a witch hunt. I merely encouraged readers to ask their service providers why they cannot do more to combat SPAMMERS. If you wish to lump email marketers in the same category as spammers, that is entirely within your rights, but I ask you to reread my post before stating that I am enciting anything at all. BTW, WTH are you talking about with the “SMTP thing?”

  7. Neil Mac · August 10, 2011

    To Ed Fisher – did Mr Hannover get back to you off post about the SMTP thing? Or has he just vanished….

  8. Ed Fisher · August 11, 2011

    Vanished faster than free t-shirts at a geek convention.

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