Apple’s iPhone introduction clouded by copyright issues

Apple’s much hyped iPhone arrives late this week amid a swirl of uncertainty regarding how it might become caught up in a controversy over video copyright issues.

A last minute announcement from Apple that the iPhone will play YouTube videos clashed head-on with a proclamation by AT&T that the carrier would keep pirated films, music and other content off its network. Since AT&T is the exclusive network for iPhone service, the confusing messages left many scratching their heads.

Not only that, AT&T’s customer user agreement currently bans any streaming video over its network. “Unlimited plans cannot be used for uploading, downloading or streaming video content (e.g. movies, TV), music or games,” AT&T’s agreement states. AT&T has yet to say whether it is changing that policy for the iPhone.

To add more controversy, the telco recently started working with motion picture studios and record companies to develop anti-piracy technology for its network, James W. Cicconi, an AT&T senior vice president, told the “Los Angeles Times.”

Now that AT&T has begun selling pay-television services, he said the telco has realized that its interests are closely aligned with Hollywood. The company’s top leaders, he said, recently decided to help Hollywood protect the digital copyrights to that content.

Word of AT&T’s plan was extremely controversial because major network providers traditionally route all content neutrally, without discriminating in favor or against a particular content or application.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital media rights group, blasted AT&T’s plan, noting that it is bound to haphazardly restrict legitimate, lawful traffic. “The AT&T Internet traffic cop appears poised to shoot first, and ask questions about the impact on your civil liberties and ability to access lawful content and applications later,” the EFF said in a statement.