Music biz turns net neutrality on pirates

Big Music is muscling in on the net neutrality debate, hoping to sneak in a tougher crackdown on suspected pirates.

A consortium consisting of 13 music industry trade bodies this week sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, responding to joint proposals on net neutrality published by the search giant and US wireless operator Verizon.

The music industry bodies called for new legislation to 'encourage' ISPs to crack down on customers suspected of piracy.

"The current legal and regulatory regime is not working for America's creators," the letter said. "Our businesses are being undermined, as are the dreams and careers of songwriters, artists, musicians, studio technicians, and other professionals."

The music industry has used Google and Verizon's proclamation that US internet users should have access to "all legal content on the Internet" to grab an opportunity to have its say over what is and isn't legal - and who gets to decide.

The letter stated that the Internet should be "predicated on order, rather than chaos", and called on broadband providers to "take measures to deter unlawful activity such as copyright infringement."

The list of 13 signatories reads like a Who's Who of the music industry, and includes the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the American Federation of Musicians, the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and the National Music Publishers Association.

In January this year, the RIAA called for the US Federal Communications Commission to "adopt flexible rules" encouraging ISPs to clamp down on piracy. Suggested measures included the disconnection of repeat offenders.

Under current rules created by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ISPs in the US are not liable for copyright infringement if they simply provide a conduit for someone else's transmissions.

Despite gaining massive publicity for its high-profile legal actions, the RIAA has been relatively unsuccessful in pursuing online music pirates. Tax documents released earlier this year reveal that during one case in 2008, the RIAA spent more than $16 million in lawyers' fees, to recover just $391,000.