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AT&T, the US's largest ISP, will cooperate with the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) in tossing written warnings at downloaders of copyrighted material.

But it won't cut offenders off - at least not "without a court order," according to a senior AT&T exec as quoted by Cnet News.

Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, made his company's position clear at the Leadership Music Digital Summit, a meeting of music-industry heavyweights held this week in Nashville, Tennessee.

At issue is the RIAA's "graduated response" program, in which the RIAA informs ISPs about naughty subscribers who are downloading copyrighted material, then the ISP sends those subscribers a polite notice that it has reason to believe that they're engaged in an illegal activity.

If that warning doesn't sufficiently frighten the downloading malfeasant, an escalating series of notifications would be sent, up to and including a threat to cut the evildoer's ISP service.

At least, that's the plan. The flaws in the RIAA's scheme are that the ISP has to play along and that the threat of a service cut-off has to be credible.

AT&T is willing to play along - but only up to a point. Notices are are well and good, but according to Cnet News, Cicconi says that "We're not a finder of fact and under no circumstances would we ever suspend or terminate service based on an allegation from a third party.

"What we do is send notices and keep track of violations and IP addresses," Cicconi said. "It's our view that any stronger action has got to rest with the copyright owner...That's what the courts are there for."

Cnet News also quoted Joe Waz, Comcast's senior vice president for external affairs and public-policy counsel, as saying that his company has "no plans to test a so-called 'three-strikes-and-you're-out' policy," although the company has sent notifications of copyright infringement to customers "for years."

It's unclear, however, whether ISPs with less clout than AT&T and Comcast will act as RIAA enforcers - and neither Earthlink, Qwest, nor Speakeasy returned our calls asking what they would do if the RIAA came knocking. ®

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