Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Comcast Point-Counterpoint or "Peer-to-Peer and How to Steer Clear of the Legal Fear Gears and RIAA Leers"

This is classic. Before the whole filesharing debacle began and people happily downloaded much loved music from peer to peer networks, I participated. Then the legal battle began with people sued at random, mostly poor people who couldn't afford the music to begin with. And, of course, the RIAA is going to exploit this fact by backing it with untold dollars.

So, I stopped sharing. I did a little reading and it seemed that you were safe if you downloaded for personal use and didn't share. Just like recording a show off of the TV, right? You enjoyed it yourself and that's it. You recorded a song off the radio, made a mix tape, and you were happy for hours on the drive, right? So if I record it off the radio or download it, what's the difference? As long as I don't provide it as a distributor, am I ok?

I don't know. That's the bottom line.

So I went to my ISP, Comcast, and read the Terms of Service. They address filesharing. Since I'm not sharing, only downloading and storing does the ToS apply to me? Are they considering any consumer of a file a filesharer? Sharing is when you give and take. What if I only take? How is this different?

With this in mind, I went to Comcast.net's on-line support. There wasn't a category for someone who can speak intelligently on their Terms of Service (and now I know why, that person either doesn't exist or is deemed inaccessible by Comcast) and this is what ensued:

chat id : 40c0e096-1031-42b6-ae18-1c2bde88ed77
Kerry.4868 > Thank you for contacting Comcast Chat Support. My name is Kerry. What is your full name and how may I assist you today?

Jeff > There wasn't really a precise category for this... so... hope you can help
Jeff > I am wondering about P2P
Jeff > I read thge ToS

Kerry.4868 > I'll try.
Kerry.4868 > What is your full name, please?

Jeff > and it doesn't say much about storing and downloading while not sharing
Jeff > Jeffrey Ethan Begley

Kerry.4868 > We do not provide a P2P service.

Jeff > I understand

Kerry.4868 > Are you requesting information on Personal Web Page?
Kerry.4868 > (PWP)

Jeff > but you provide the connection through which I p2p
Jeff > no
Jeff > peer to peer file sharing

Kerry.4868 > We provide your internet service, but do not troubleshoot other company's websites or programs.
Kerry.4868 > Is there something else I can assist you with today?

Jeff > I'm not asking for troubleshooting
Jeff > I am asking about the Terms of Service where they apply to peer to peer file sharing

Kerry.4868 > What are you asking then?
Kerry.4868 > Go to the comcast.net homepage and click on Service Center -- you will see information concerning file sharing.
Kerry.4868 > Your reference number for this chat session is:
Kerry.4868 > 18147021

Jeff > Does Comcast have a policy regarding downloading copyrighted materials if they are NOT shared and only stored
Jeff > I don't share, merely download

Kerry.4868 > The Terms of Service are available at the bottom of the Comcast.net homepage.

Jeff > Which I read and do not provide an adequate description for people to download and store but do not make the files available to others

Kerry.4868 > Is there something else I can assist you with today?
Kerry.4868 > Do you require further assistance today?

Jeff > Yes
Jeff > The Terms of Service do not provide information on my specific case
Jeff > who can I contact for further info?
Jeff > Who is the person who can answer specific questions on the ToS

Kerry.4868 > Comcast abides by any US law concerning filesharing. If subpoenaed for information concerning customers, it is provided.
Kerry.4868 > At the bottom of the comcast.net homepage, you will see a link for Contact US -- click on it.
Kerry.4868 > Do you require further assistance today?

Jeff > Understood. But I don't fileshare. I only consume. That is not addressed and is what my questions concerns.
Jeff > Is there a contact for the legal dept at Comcast?

Kerry.4868 > You will need to talk to a lawyer if you want the absolute translation of the law.
Kerry.4868 > You may not contact Comcast's corporate lawyers for this issue.
Kerry.4868 > Is there something else I can assist you with today?

Jeff > I am asking for Comcast's stance on it.

Kerry.4868 > I've given you where to locate the Terms of service and how to contact Comcast.

Jeff > Ok. I guess that's as good as it can get then. Thanks for putting up with me.

Kerry.4868 > As a technical service representative, I am unable to provide you with any legal advice -- you will need to research how the law applies to you.
Kerry.4868 > If you do not have any further issues, please close this chat window.
Kerry.4868 > I have terminated this chat session because of you have been inactive for quite some time. If you would like further assistance you may re-enter Chat Support. Thank you for choosing Comcast. Have a great day. To protect your computer and connection to the Internet, please ensure you have the latest security updates from Microsoft www.microsoft.com/security. If you have any questions visit our Online Security Section in the Service Center on Comcast.net.
Kerry.4868 > Analyst has closed chat and left the room

As a note: Kerry closed the chat window so fast I almost didn't have time to copy the text. "Quite some time" to a Comcast tech support guy is about fifteen seconds.

This conversation illustrates something quite important in the p2p battle currently going on. I am not a lawyer. I can read and write and have quite a bit of college under my belt, but I'm afraid I'm pretty weak when you enter into copyright law.

So what is a music consumer to do?

Do I wait around to find out if I'll be sued for storing music for personal purposes? Is it illegal if I purchase the CD and then rip it onto my hard drive so I can listen via MP3 player? What if I share it with my wife? When I purchase a CD is the implied use for the whole family? Am I violating the law if I play it at a party and we video tape it?

How the hell do I know?! I have to get a lawyer in order to ensure I'm not ignorant of the law?

So... I ask my ISP. I thought that was rational. I pay for their connection. They have terms of service which broach my particular question. So I'll ask them.

And that is the response... specific advice is to read the ToS again and then hire a lawyer to answer my questions on their policy. Not once did I ask the guy what my legal obligation was. I asked how their (Comcast's) terms of service applied to individuals who download and store music for personal use and take care not to share it.

The bottom line is that I still don't know if what I did was wrong in the eyes of my ISP.

So, with all this in mind, I wish to give Comcast a fair shake. I'll try their tech support live-chat again and see what happens...

And the miraculous occurred! Read on:

chat id : bc51f63b-91a0-4e48-8fe0-a71047d57940
Eleanor.5166 > Thank you for contacting Comcast chat. My name is Eleanor. How can I help you. May I have your name please?

Jeff > Jeff Begley

Eleanor.5166 > Hello Jeff

Jeff > I am looking for someone who can clarify the Terms of Service
Jeff > Hiya

Eleanor.5166 > How can I assist you.

Jeff > I asked a question about the ToS with another analyst... and I didn't get clarification so I thought maybe I asked in the wrong way

Eleanor.5166 > What do you need to know?

Jeff > I would like clarification on the ToS where it comes to file storage and NOT sharing over a p2p network
Jeff > basically, I download and store but do not make files available, does that put me in violation of the ToS
Jeff > I wonder because I do not share

Eleanor.5166 > No that does not put you in violation.

Jeff > so, in Comcast's eyes I can download and store as long as I don't allow the files to be shared?

Eleanor.5166 > Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Jeff > Eleanor.5166, you are wonderful... that was so easy, thanks.

Eleanor.5166 > That is correct.

Jeff > And have a good day.

Eleanor.5166 > Thank you.
Eleanor.5166 > To protect your computer and connection to the Internet, please ensure you have the latest security updates from Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/security). If you have any questions visit our Online Security Section in the Service Center on Comcast.net. Thank you for choosing Comcast chat.
Eleanor.5166 > Customer has closed chat and left the room

So, Comcast says it's ok to download and use, just not share. I realize this may not be copyright law, but it's a good enough indicator to me that it is legal. Woohoo!

For you lawyers out there gritting your teeth, I know the law is an evolving mass open to interpretation and is not a set of hard and fast rules. The layman, however, cannot afford your rates and has to conduct their own reasonable research.

Hopefully, this indicates I have done so. I'll be moving all that music onto CD as soon as possible in any case. Get it off the old hard drive. You just can't be too careful these days with all the hired-gun litigators running around the internet.

No links in this one. I was in a hurry.


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