UK File-Sharers To Be 'Cut Off'
Auguist 25, 2009 10:45am
The government has published new measures that could see people who illegally download films and music cut off from the net.
The amendment to the Digital Britain report would see regulator Ofcom given greater powers to tackle pirates.
The technical measures are likely to include suspending the net accounts of "hardcore copyright pirates".
It is believed that Business Secretary Lord Mandelson has intervened personally to beef up the policy.
The Digital Britain report, published in June, gave Ofcom until 2012 to consider whether technical measures to catch pirates were necessary.
However, according to a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills released on Tuesday, that timeframe is now considered "too long to wait".
Stephen Timms, minister for Digital Britain, explained the change of heart.
"We've been listening carefully to responses to the consultation this far, and it's become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders," he said.
It proposes that internet service providers (ISPs) are obliged to take action against repeat infringers and suggests that the cost of tracking down persistent pirates be shared 50:50 between ISPs and rights holders.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills denied that it had changed its position since the publication of Digital Britain and said that the recommendations were open to consultation.
"We are simply adding new ideas to the table that could potentially make the whole system more flexible and provide a quicker way to bring in technical measures," it said in a statement.
ISPs have repeatedly argued that it is not their job to police the web.
The Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) said it was "disappointed by the proposal to force ISPs to suspend users' accounts".
"ISPA and consumer groups consider disconnection of users to be a disproportionate response, a view that was recently supported by the European Parliament," it said in a statement.
European politicians recently ruled that cutting off someone's internet connection could be a breach of their human rights. The challenge came in response to France's tough policy on file-sharers.
ISPA also said that the changes had been proposed "without consultation with the internet industry".
Andrew Ferguson, editor of broadband website ThinkBroadband, thinks the U-turn makes a mockery of the original Digital Britain report.
"One wonders why Stephen Carter bothered to write the Digital Britain report, we are seeing sections of it being dropped or rewritten, and this even before the 18 implementation projects have got off the ground," he said.
He is also concerned that suspending accounts could hit soft targets such as teenagers.
"Cutting off an internet connection could lead to serious ramifications for people, for example home workers where their teenagers use it in the evening," he said.
Campaign body the Open Rights Group (ORG) said the proposals raised a lot of issues.
"Removing peoples' ability to get online curtails their freedom of speech. There are issues about whether innocent people will be affected and those who share internet connections.
"It seems crazy that as the music and film industry are starting to make money online and file-sharing is reducing that the government goes for such a harsh clamp-down," said Jim Killock, executive director of ORG.
However, the move has not been criticised by all.
The BPI, which represents the recorded music industry in Britain, welcomed the government's decision.
"'Digital piracy is a serious problem and a real threat to the UK's creative industries," it said in a statement.
"The solution to the piracy problem must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive."
Countries around the world are grappling with how to control internet piracy. In the US, student Joel Tenebaum was last month ordered to pay $675,000 (£412,000) to various record labels after admitting downloading 800 songs.
In May, the French parliament passed legislation which would see a new state-agency sending warning letters to file sharers. If they are caught three times, they will be cut off.
There have been protests against similar proposed legislation in Australia and New Zealand.
It is estimated that around seven million people in the UK are involved in illegal downloads with half of all the traffic on the net in the UK being content that is shared illegally.
The UK government has set a target of reducing the problem by at least 70% in the next few years.
There has been speculation in the British press that Lord Mandelson intervened personally on the issue after meeting record label founder David Geffen.
A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills denied the link.
"Lord Mandelson does not believe Digital Britain is even on David Geffen's radar. There was no discussion on this with Geffen," he said.
Rob Bratby, a partner with law firm Olswang thinks the pendulum could yet swing in favour of ISPs.
"The rights holders have been successful in putting their views to government but expect some heavy lobbying from ISPs now," he said.
Source: BBC News