NBCU, Public Knowledge Spar over ISP Filtering

NBCU general counsel Rick Cotton says the fair-use advocacy group mischaracterized comments on IP protection

Fair-use advocate Public Knowledge took aim at NBC Universal for defending ISP
filtering for illegal content. But the company's executive VP and general
counsel, Rick Cotton, told B&C that the group was off base in its
characterization of his comments on a Feb. 18 conference call concerning
intellectual property protection.

Cotton was in Washington for a
press roundtable outlining the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's IP agenda for the
coming year. Cotton and NBC are leading proponents of stronger IP protections,
and Cotton and company argued for a "surge" in enforcement to combat
a wave of piracy, online and off.

Following the press conference, Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn released a
statement saying Cotton had called for ISPs to filter content for copyright

"It is unfortunate that Rick Cotton continues to push the completely
unconstitutional and anti-consumer policy goal of having Internet Service
Providers filter the bits of every user in the industry's quest to find illegal
content," she said. "The current law provides that if illegal content
is found, the ISP can take it down. We don't
need to violate the privacy and free speech rights of every Internet user to
satisfy the demands of Big Media."

In an interview with B&C Cotton said he was doing no such thing. He said
the issue of curbing illegal content came up twice during the meeting and
"they have misleadingly tried to put the two together."

Cotton said that when a question was asked whether the chamber and its coalition
to combat piracy, which Cotton chairs, supports filtering by ISP's,
someone started to answer the question affirmatively. But Cotton says he
stepped in to clarify that their focus was not on filtering but on whether ISPs
should take "some action against illegal-file sharing and let's get rid of
the loaded term 'filtering.'" He adds that in general the answer is, yes, ISP's
should take action to reduce the amount of illegal file-sharing. "But we
are not addressing the question of what technique specifically should be

He says he "specifically intervened" to make it clear they were not
taking a position on filtering.

Sohn said it was "ridiculous" to compare filtering for copyright to
filtering for viruses, as she said Cotton did on the call. "ISPs are
technically able to tell what is a harmful virus and what is not, unlike the
situation for copyright content, which may be used legally. Viruses are a
danger to the ISPs network, and it is in their best interest to protect against

But Cotton says that was referring to a separate question of whether he thought
filtering "inevitably violates people's privacy." Cotton said he
answered that "no, it does not inevitably because that would be like
saying a virus filter inevitably violates piracy." He says that was not a
position "as to what should happen, how it should be used, or when."