RIAA and AT&T, Comcast reportedly near agreements

The Recording Industry Association of America could be getting a hand from the country’s two largest Internet service providers in combating piracy.

Citing three anonymous sources "close to the companies," CNet said roughly six ISPs are involved including Comcast and AT&T, but none have signed agreements. Not among them, if an earlier report by Wired holds true, is Verizon, which said it won’t be working with the RIAA on this issue.

In lieu of its recently abandoned strategy of suing individual file sharers, the RIAA is looking to ISPs to cooperate on a "graduated response" program. Some call it a "three strikes" rule, but the RIAA avoids that term as it implies hard and fast terms for disconnection after repeat offenses. The anti-piracy measures would start with take-down notices and work towards more severe consequences, such as suspension of service or disconnection.

Possible bad press surrounding this concept has made ISPs "skittish," one source told CNet, and it’s always possible they could back out. Neither the RIAA nor the two service providers confirmed or denied the story. CDFreaks e-mailed an RIAA spokeswoman as recently as Monday and was told that there are no official announcements.

Earlier this week, the British goverment said it won’t force ISPs to ban illicit file sharers. The music trade group BPI wanted to work out a "three-steps" policy with service providers in Britain, and is currently trying to find an anti-piracy solution that satisfies all parties. France implements a three strikes rule, and one is being considered in Italy.

News of a possible deal raises more questions than it answers, mostly pertaining to who’s responsible for enforcement and whether disconnected users could then take their business to another provider.

As for questions of privacy, the sources tell CNet that the RIAA hasn’t asked ISPs to "peer into packets," but civil liberties groups are still waiting to weigh in. Short of a thorough leaking of details, getting complete answers will probably be a matter of patience.