Earlier this week, we filed comments in response to the Federal Government’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) call for public comments on the proposed Joint Strategic Plan.

What is IPEC? The IPEC is a relatively newly-created White House position charged with formulating a new 21st Century Intellectual Property enforcement structure. One of the issues raised by this proceeding is the appropriate role of ISPs in helping to deter online copyright infringement. Our position on this question is relatively simple and straightforward, representing a fair balance of all stakeholder interests – Internet users, copyright holders, ISPs, the government and the overarching public interest.

I invite you to read our full comments, which are surprisingly short for AT&T. But, here are our main points.

First, we firmly believe in the importance of intellectual property rights, a critical foundation for both the American economy and the global economy. Moreover, the laws that protect intellectual property apply equally in the online world as they do in the offline world. We believe we can play a role in helping to combat online piracy, but we should not take on the role as “privatized” law enforcement. What does that mean?

It means that many ISPs are and should continue to forward notices of alleged copyright infringement from copyright owners to its customers. Our experience has shown that, in addition to people that may be knowingly consuming pirated material, there are many folks who don’t understand the technology, don’t understand what online content is or isn’t lawful, or simply are the parents of kids who are doing something they weren’t previously aware of. So, these notices provide an important educational benefit and serve as an effective deterrent to further infringing activities.

It is important to remember that these notices are allegations of infringement, not conclusive proof nor a judgment from a court. Therefore, we’ve resisted calls to go further and unilaterally impose sanctions on our customers, such as termination of service, for those customers who may receive more than one notice. Ultimately, we believe that an enduring system to enforce our nation’s laws should remain in the hands of the government and that it isn’t in any stakeholder’s interest for ISPs to sit in the role of judge, jury and police.

However, we also believe that more can and should be done to address this important issue. And this is why IPEC’s proceeding is important. We’ve sketched out the beginnings of two important recommendations that seek to fill the current structural gap in law enforcement.

The content industry has rightfully noted that the existing legal system is too slow, too cumbersome, too expensive and requires that they seek remedies that are disproportionate to their legitimate goal of simply changing behavior. At the same time, the public interest community and others have rightfully pointed out that due process must be preserved in order for such a system to be fair and trusted. Therefore, we propose the creation of a kind of federal “small claims court for copyright.”

The second idea is focused on the criminal side of the equation. We believe that there should be more focused federal law enforcement efforts on the baddest actors out there – those that are willfully trafficking in high volumes of stolen content. For those sites that the government can’t shut down because they are hosted in other countries, we’ve suggested that the government work to identify a “most wanted” list, provide an open process to ensure the validity of those findings, and then set up a expedited process to require ISPs to deny access.

Obviously, these proposals raise a host of questions and issues, but we believe that this discussion is ripe and needs to happen in an open and transparent way and, most importantly, that the Federal Government needs to take its place at the head of the table as the creator, adjudicator and enforcer of our nation’s copyright laws.

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