Hey FCC: Don’t Sacrifice Network Neutrality to Content Owners

January 14, 2010 , , , ,

In addition to our larger Network Neutrality comments, today Public Knowledge, along with Computer and Communications Industry Association, Consumer Electronics Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Home Recording Rights Coalition, and NetCoalition, filed a short comment with the FCC focusing on how copyright fits in with Network Neutrality.

Or more specifically, how copyright doesn’t fit in with Network Neutrality. As EFF has been pointing out with its Real Net Neutrality Campaign, the proposed rules have a gaping “copyright loophole.” They exempt any activity designed to block copyright infringement from Network Neutrality rules.

This is a problem. A major reason for Network Neutrality rules in the first place is to prevent ISPs from doing unreasonable things, like throttling bittorrent, in the name of making the world safe from copyright infringement. While none of the organizations that signed onto the comments supports copyright infringement, all are concerned about the collateral damage that overzealous attempts to stop infringement inevitably create.

More importantly, there is no reason to specifically exempt attempts to block copyright infringement from Network Neutrality rules. This is because the rules do not apply to copyright infringement. The rules specifically refer to lawful activity, which does not include copyright infringement.

In fact, that is why the Network Neutrality rules are so important. Since they specifically exclude illegal activity, they are only triggered to prevent ISPs from engaging in practices that improperly sacrifice lawful content or activities in the name of blocking copyright infringement.

The rules protect everyone from the collateral damage of over-inclusive copyright filters. If an ISP can block whatever it wants under the banner of copyright protection, Network Neutrality rules could become meaningless.

Since overbroad copyright enforcement is a very real phenomenon(pdf), robust Network Neutrality rules are needed to protect everyone’s ability to access the riches of the Internet. If the FCC undermines the Network Neutrality rules with a sweeping copyright enforcement exception, this entire exercise may the kind of thing that gives Washington a bad name: a solution that ignores the problem.