After a major conference in Paris ended this week, an official document discussing the principals of Internet policy making was released. Among the most notable things in that document was the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be responsible for policing the internet. The idea is that ISPs would act on “voluntary agreements” between content owners and themselves.
This idea that there need to be rules for the internet is not a new one. Last month’s e-G8 summit, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, began a push to create policies for Internet policing. US president Barack Obama as well as UK Prime Minister David Cameron have both agreed that Internet rules need to be worked out over the course of this next year.
The document that resulted from this week’s conference in Paris had a lot to say, including a bunch of verbiage about freedom of speech on the web. The most interesting part called for ISPs to join the fight because they would be the primary enforcers on the web.
“Sound Internet policy should encompass norms of responsibility that enable private sector voluntary cooperation for the protection of intellectual property,”
the text continues,
“Appropriate measures include lawful steps to address and deter infringement, and accord full respect to user and stakeholder rights and fair process.”
So what exactly is this voluntary cooperation being called for? The document dictates it would be a set of “codes of conduct” covering a range of nefarious activity including, “fraudulent, malicious, misleading, and unfair practices taking place over the Internet.” The text goes on to discuss the idea that these voluntary agreements should ultimately result in something that would be government enforceable. It’s made clear that ISPs who participate would be removed from any legal liability for the content that passes through their services. It’s not explicitly stated but it’s pretty obvious that ISPs who don’t play nice with these “voluntary” agreements might be held liable for that content.
These kinds of voluntary agreements aren’t exactly new. US ISPs are already in talks with the RIAA and MPAA over policies for piracy enforcement. Finnish courts ordered ISPs to terminate the internet connections of three known pirates and in Britain the MPA went to court to force an ISP to block Newzbin. The coming months will likely result in a surge of similar documents and court cases regarding ISPs role in policing the internet. How much of this actually translates into law, and the punishments for ISPs who don’t want to go along, remains to be seen.