In November 2009, details finally became public concerning the UK Digital Economy Bill, which aimed to turn elements of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report into law.
Part of the proposals indicated that Internet users would face being monitored by the music and movie industries. Their ISPs would then be required to pass on copyright infringement notices based on evidence supplied by anti-piracy tracking companies.
If file-sharing wasn’t reduced by 70% in 2 years using these ‘educational’ measures, alleged persistent infringers faced the ultimate sanction of being disconnected from the Internet.
The proposals were met with massive opposition, with ISP TalkTalk going as far as threatening legal action over what it says amounts to a breach of human rights.
Adding to the pressure, a petition against the proposals was launched on the Number 10 website demanding;
‘We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to abandon Lord Mandelson’s plans to ban individuals from the internet based on their use of ‘peer to peer’ file sharing.’
The Government has now responded, and for TalkTalk and the countless others who share their views, on the surface it seems like good news, but a closer look reveals a somewhat disappointing result.
In its response the Government says that it wants as many citizens as possible to enjoy the benefits of the Internet and recognizes that technology has changed the way people access media content, in some cases ‘faster than products and services commercially on offer have developed’ – an apparent reference to the superior accessibility of unauthorized downloads.
The Government goes on to say that they take the interests of artists and creators very seriously and have been working hard to find solutions to online copyright infringement. Nevertheless, they will not require ISPs to monitor their users to detect infringements and downloaders will be pretty safe, as is the case now, with detection being focused on those who upload material without permission.
On potential disconnections for persistent file-sharers – the key issue for many – the Government goes on to say:
‘We will not terminate the accounts of infringers – it is very hard to see how this could be deemed proportionate except in the most extreme – and therefore probably criminal – cases.’
What categorizes an infringement as ‘criminal’ is open to interpretation, but is likely to mean very large-scale infringement, infringement for profit, or both. So good news then? Well, not quite.
Despite throwing out absolute permanent disconnections as a measure against file-sharers, the Government is still considering other ‘technical’ solutions if the ISP warnings aren’t effective including ‘band width restriction, a daily downloading limit or, as a last resort, temporary account suspension.’
So we’re back to disconnections again. In terms of time, ‘temporary’ is not defined. Of course, anything less than ‘permanent’ fits the wording. A day? A month? A year?
Another part of the response which has been mentioned several times before and still remains puzzling is this section:
‘In the cases of the most serious infringers, if a rights holder obtains a court order, the ISP would have to provide information so that the rights holder can take targeted court action.’
As anyone who has followed the activities of Davenport Lyons and ACS:Law will tell you, the personal details of anyone alleged to have shared a single file can easily be obtained by rightsholders.
Sadly, despite the headline-grabbing statements, it seems that little has changed with this response from the Government.