AT&T’s Retarded Plan to Filter the Internet

Tim Wu’s fantastic piece on Slate, describing the inanity that is AT&T’s plans to try and filter all its internet traffic for copyrighted works. Wu lays out the various reasons why this is a bad idea, but I really like how he focuses primarily on why this would be bad business. AT&T is much more likely to respond to financial pressure than ethical if history is any guide.

AT&T’s new strategy reverses that position and exposes it to so much potential liability that adopting it would arguably violate AT&T’s fiduciary duty to its shareholders. Today, in its daily Internet operations, AT&T is shielded by a federal law that provides a powerful immunity to copyright infringement. The Bells know the law well: They wrote and pushed it through Congress in 1998, collectively spending six years and millions of dollars in lobbying fees to make sure there would be no liability for “Transitory Digital Network Communications”–content AT&T carries over the Internet. And that’s why the recording industry sued Napster and Grokster, not AT&T or Verizon, when the great music wars began in the early 2000s.

Here’s the kicker: To maintain that immunity, AT&T must transmit data “without selection of the material by the service provider” and “without modification of its content.” Once AT&T gets in the business of picking and choosing what content travels over its network, while the law is not entirely clear, it runs a serious risk of losing its all-important immunity. An Internet provider voluntarily giving up copyright immunity is like an astronaut on the moon taking off his space suit. As the world’s largest gatekeeper, AT&T would immediately become the world’s largest target for copyright infringement lawsuits.

Wu goes on to posit that AT&T might be mistaking itself for a media company. It’s certainly the first question I’ve asked of AT&T: which do you think has a longer, brighter future? Big media companies or users of the internet?

Has AT&T Lost Its Mind? [Slate]

Previously: Fair use for the 21st century: if it adds value, it’s fair; if it substitutes, it’s not [Boing Boing]

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15 Responses to AT&T’s Retarded Plan to Filter the Internet

  1. NeonCat says:

    @ Joel

    I have (church custodian through college), but I don’t feel like giving you any guff.

    No one has any idea what anyone else’s experience is really like, and given the tricky nature of memory we may not for sure remember what our experiences were really like. All we can have are approximations.

    Retarded may not be a nice word, but sometimes shit is retarded.

    If you are easily offended, teh Internets may not be right for you.

  2. dculberson says:

    Ouch.

  3. drewstarr says:

    Not personally offended by the use of the word “retarded,” however I still think it’s the wrong word here.
    Someone who is retarded has the unfortunate inability (either through genetics or developmental trauma) to think out their actions beyond a rudimentary level. The folks at AT&T are NOT retarded. They are well-educated, well-compensated, independently intelligent people who collectively CHOOSE to do evil and / or stupid things. They are paid (pay themselves?) lots of money to analyze a situation before making a decision. It is their corporate culture, bureaucracy, and embarrassing ties to the government that inspire them to make the WRONG decision time and time again — calling these mistakes “retarded” lets them off the hook far too easily.
    Alternative proposals? Meshuganah, asshatted, schmucky…

  4. Joel Johnson says:

    (Seriously.)

  5. drewstarr says:

    Thanks, Joel.

  6. drewstarr says:

    (I think.)

  7. cperry says:

    ‘easily offended’? nah. look, joel puts himself out there, and people respond. I like that he does so, truly. I like that he says ‘fuck’ and gives attitude (except when I don’t agree, or when he’s made it clear that he doesn’t give a flying fuck what others think). I’m not interested in fisticuffs, but I am also not the only person who commented on his terminology in this case. I’ve been on the interwebs for something like 20 years now (ok, maybe not that long, but a very long time). to my mind, the idea of the interweb is mutual discourse, not a bully pulpit. if that was the case on boingboing, comments would have been disallowed.

  8. cperry says:

    you know, dude… the other day you used sexist language to describe an all-purpose survival tool, and now this. would you kindly get your head out & demonstrate a bit more sensitivity? you’re damaging your cred with certain demographics.

    • Joel Johnson says:

      Somehow if I lose the demographic that is offended by the use of the term “last man on earth” instead of “last person on earth” I think I’ll survive.

      There’s a long story about why I don’t have a problem using the term “retarded” to disparage things that are, in fact, very dumb. I won’t get into now, but let me say this: until you’ve washed someone else’s shit off walls don’t give me any guff.

  9. dculberson says:

    Cperry, claiming Joel saying “the last man on earth” is “sexist language” is about the lamest thing ever. Joel might even describe it as retarded. A middle schooler would probably say it was gay. I’d say it was searching for a slight to get worked up about.

    Let me put it this way: if Xeni had made an identical post saying “last woman on earth,” would you have taken offense? (Of course, if you say yes, I won’t believe you.)

    And yes, taking offense to that does, in fact, make you easily offended. You don’t get to decide whether or not that’s true, others do.

  10. cperry says:

    you have no idea what my experiences have been, in fact. yours apparently have rendered you incapable of grace.

  11. aash says:

    Regardless of whether CPerry is easily offended or not (why are we talking about her personality flaws here?), the fact remains that “retarded,” though very often used incorrectly, is a term that should be reserved for exactly what it means; mentally disabled. Are we saying that AT&T’s plan is mentally disabled? No, not at all. You are trying to insult its plan and you chose the word “retarded” to do so. You imply that you believe being retarded is negative, inferior, and/or defective in some way when you use it derogatorily as such. Please mend your ways, your are insulting millions with this choice of words.

  12. DeanG says:

    Joel: You can think up a less offensive adjective for AT&T’s Plan. Try harder.

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