US telco AT&T has patented a method which enables the detection of copyright-infringing files that are sent over its network in real-time, which could then enable the transfer to be stopped or the perpetrator to be reported to copyright holders or enforcement agencies.
AT&T describes it as “A method and system for detecting the transmission of pre-identified content, such as copyrighted material, over an Internet Service Provider (ISP) network,” explaining that a set of rules is provided to identify one or more traffic flow profiles of data streams transmitting pre-identified content.
In discussing the background to the invention, AT&T notes that a recurring problem in Internet usage is the transmission of unauthorised content. “One very commercially important example of this problem relates to copyrighted materials. Copyrighted text, music and movies can be transmitted rapidly and cheaply over the Internet, allowing Internet users to easily obtain unauthorised or pirated copies to the detriment of copyright owners. Policing such unauthorised transmission is difficult for copyright owners, because the sources of copyrighted materials may be elusive, or indeed may be legitimate possessors of copyrighted materials but do not have authorisation to permit copies to be made. Pursuing the illegal distributors of such materials is problematic because the users are often numerous and diffuse and individual legal action against multiple small users is expensive – as well as unsympathetic from a public relations standpoint when the users turn out to be teenagers or others whose motives are seldom to make a criminal profit,” it says.
Noting a number of approaches to dealing with the problem and their inherent drawbacks, AT&T
says that there remains a need for methods and systems capable of detecting the transmission of specific content, such as copyrighted content, over the Internet in a timely and cost effective manner while still preserving customer privacy and that additionally, there remains a need for methods and systems which allow an ISP to offer a service to clients, such as copyright owners, to detect the transmission of content of interest, such as copyrighted content, over the ISP’s network.
According to AT&T, the invention can be seen to have many advantages: it is capable of identifying likely incidents of illicit content transmission, such as piracy of copyrighted material, confirming the presence of such content, and then taking action while preserving the privacy of those ISP customers who have no association with copyright infringement. “Further, the present invention is able to achieve these advantages in a deployment that is economically and technically feasible, making use of existing network devices and not requiring extensive hardware or software development. The development of profile rules to identify instances of content abuse permits the method to be used on-line to monitor heavy ISP data traffic and to select the relatively small number of data streams that are problematic and deserve further analysis, which can then be performed using existing slower speed digital fingerprinting or computed hash value comparison devices that would be incapable by themselves of handling an ISP’s vast amount of throughput,” it states.