June 15, 2024

BSA To Ask For Expansion of ISP Liability

The Business Software Alliance (BSA), a software industry group, will ask Congress to expand the liability of ISPs for infringing traffic that goes across their networks, according to a Washington Post story by Jonathan Krim.

The campaign to modify the law is part of a broader effort by the BSA to address a variety of copyright and patent issues. In a report to be released today, the group outlines its concerns but offers no specifics on how the 1998 law should be changed. But in an interview, [Adobe chief Bruce] Chizen and BSA Executive Director Robert Holleyman said Internet service providers should no longer enjoy blanket immunity from liability for piracy by users.

The article doesn’t make clear what limits BSA would put on ISP liability. Making ISPs liable for everything that goes over their networks would be a death blow to ISPs, because there is no way to look at a file and tell what might be hidden in it. (Don’t believe me? Then tell me what is hidden in this file.) Actually, BSA members sell virtual private network software that hides messages from ISPs.

So the BSA must want something less than total liability. Perhaps they want to expand the DMCA subpoena-bot rule so that ISPs have to turn over a customer’s name on demand. The music industry once claimed that the existing DMCA rule requires that, but the courts disagreed. Congress could amend the DMCA to override that court decision.

Or perhaps they want to hold ISPs liable unless they deploy filtering and blocking technologies to try to stop certain files from circulating and certain protocols from being used. These technologies are only stopgap measures that would soon be overcome by P2P designers, so requiring their deployment seems like bad policy.

Most likely, this is just a tactic to put political pressure on ISPs, in the hope of extracting some concessions. I predict that either (a) this will go nowhere, or (b) ISPs will agree to allow an expansion of the subpoena-bot rule.


  1. Meter:

    Don’t you realise that 90%+ of people *are* using the telephone to copy files?

    Most people are still on a dial-up connection via the local telephone company, or on aDSL through the same wires. In fact, most people on cable modems also have a phone bundled in with it!Edward:Love the site and the comments!I’ve just bookmarked it. I agree with a lot of what you say, and what I don’t agree with is rational and well-worded. I agree totally about the SSL tunnelling and other snooper-proofing software packages the BSA hawk – it will sink the request, I suspect, or they will accidentally outlaw everything with encryption or DRM. since ISPs will be unable/unwilling to transmit it!What was the hidden message?Guvf vf n fvzcyre uvqqra zrffntr.

  2. Holding ISPs liable for users actions is unreasonable and, as demonstrated, impossible.

    All an ISP is concerned with is getting your ones and zeros out of their network to the Internet.

    It’s like holding the post office liable for you sending a copied CD to a friend. Should they open EVERY letter and parcel to see what’s inside? I think not. And even if they did, how on earth can they tell what is legal and not?

    Another example, should the local gov be held liable for an accident on a road they provided because you drove like an idiot? 😉

    When you look at this it has deeper implications, the Internet should not be treated as if it is different than real life just because you can’t touch it.

  3. 1) Here’s an interesting academic paper on holding ISPs accoutable. http://ssrn.com/abstract=573502

    2) This seems like a pretty weak argument from the WoPo piece:

    “We already don’t ask the phone companies to go after people who engage in infringing performances of songs over the telephone,” Godwin said.

    Who engages in infringing performances of songs over the telephone on the same level that this activity currently occurs over the Internet? The comparison of Internet to telephone here is apples to oranges.