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Are AT&T, Cox, Comcast Ratting Out Music Pirates?

ISPs say they don't necessarily plan to terminate subscriber accounts based on Recording Industry Association of America plan.

But after reports this week of involvement by AT&T, Cox and Comcast, the ISPs rushed to defend themselves, saying they were not ratting out suspected music pirates to industry chiefs and were not planning to terminate customers' service.

The RIAA has in the past few months changed its strategy for hunting music pirates: Instead of identifying individual file sharers, it said in December it would coordinate with "major ISPs" to locate suspected downloaders and kick off a process of warnings. That effort, which the RIAA calls a "graduated response," would eventually lead to cutting off their Internet access. The RIAA at the time did not name the ISPs or say when its new strategy would take effect.

On Tuesday, reports out of the Leadership Music Digital Summit in Nashville, Tenn., identified AT&T as cooperating with the RIAA by sending out warning notices to suspected illegal downloaders. Comcast Senior Vice President Joe Waz also said at the summit that his company had issued 2 million notices, but Comcast told Billboard and other sources Wednesday that doing so was not part of any new policy.

"Comcast, like other major ISPs, forwards notices of alleged infringement that we receive from music, movie, video game and other content owners to our customers," said Comcast in a statement issued to reporters.

A spokesperson from Cox also told news services that Cox has issued "hundreds of thousands of warnings" already and that Cox had also been sending out notifications before the RIAA announced its strategy shift.

AT&T went so far as to deny any "deal" between it and the RIAA, and said it had been testing a "procedure" for sending warning notices from copyright holders out to customers.

"Any suggestion that there is a deal between us and the RIAA is just bogus," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's executive vice president for external affairs, to USA Today. "We will never suspend, terminate or sanction any customer without some sort of legal process, like a court order. That's been our policy for years and that's not going to change."

The RIAA and other recording industry organizations seem to have thrown in the towel on targeting individual suspected music pirates and are instead continuing to focus on the conduits for illegal downloading.

The Pirate Bay, a Swedish Bit Torrent site and one of the most popular Bit Torrent sites in the world, has been on trial since February, accused of assisting copyright violation by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

During that trial, the IFPI's chairman and CEO told Stockholm District Court Pirate Bay was the "No. 1 source of illegal music." A judge's decision in The Pirate Bay trial is expected on April 17.

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