Illegal file-sharers could see internet connection cut

If home users or businesses are believed to continue to share copyrighted material despite receiving initial warning letters from ISPs, they could see their internet connection temporarily suspended.

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) – formerly BERR – said the measures would give Ofcom technical measures to deal with illegal file-sharing.

“These would involve an obligation on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take action against individual, repeat infringers – for example by blocking access to download sites, reducing broadband speeds, or by temporarily suspending the individual’s internet account”, BIS said.

Minister for Digital Britain, Stephen Timms, said in a statement: “We’ve been listening carefully to responses to the consultation thus far, and it’s become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders.”

BIS emphasised, however, that internet account suspension would only be used as a last resort against illegal file-sharing.

ISPs disappointed

The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) was quoted by the BBC, saying it was “disappointed by the proposal to force ISPs to suspend users’ accounts”.

The BBC said an estimated seven million people in the UK are involved in illegal downloads and that half of all traffic on the internet in the UK is content that is shared illegally. The government has reportedly set a target of reducing the problem of illegal file-sharing by 70% in the next few years.

Piggybacking on unsecured Wi-Fi

IT security and data protection firm Sophos, said the proposal to cut suspected illegal file-sharers’ internet connection could do more harm than good. Sophos pointed out that the penalties – thought to have been pushed through by business secretary Peter Mandelson - “are likely to cause serious problems for both ISPs and users of Wi-Fi networks.”

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said: “Worryingly for businesses, if the alleged illegal downloads appear to originate from the workplace – will the entire company be disconnected from the net?

“The bottom line is that people who illegally download material that they haven’t paid for aren’t going to have any qualms about using someone else’s internet connection. This not only mans there are likely to be innocent victims, but it also gives the real pirates a plausible defence. These proposed laws to stop illegal file-sharing are not only unworkable, they’re ridiculous”, he said.

Sophos advices businesses to use application control solutions to block unauthorised use of file-sharing clients in the workplace. Also, businesses and home users should protect their wireless networks with strong levels of encryption to prevent people piggybacking on their connection.

Consumer rights infringed

Larry Whitty, chairman of the UK consumer rights organisation Consumer Focus, added: “Cutting people off the internet for allegedly infringing copyright is disproportionate. And to do so without giving consumers the right to challenge the evidence against them undermines fundamental rights to a fair trial.”

Whitty said illegal file-sharing should not be condoned, but that the number of people participating could be a sign that the creative industries fail to “deliver products that people want”.

“The government originally proposed to tackle illegal file sharing by sending warning letters and taking court action before technical measures can be imposed. This approach would be fairer, more proportionate and better respect consumer rights”, Whitty concluded.

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