Who should police illegal internet file-sharing?

The disagreement broke out after a coalition of UK creative industries called on ISPs to cut the internet connection for repeat offenders of illegal file-sharing. In a statement issued on 12 May, the London conference of creative industry bodies issued a joint policy statement published in UK daily The Times stating:

“We support early indications of [UK] Government’s thinking that call on ISPs to send warning notices to offenders as a first stage of talking the problem. We strongly recommend an additional option whereby, where multiple educational warnings are ignored by consumers, a graduated series of technical solutions are used which prevent further illegal activity, with a clear appeals process in place to protect consumers.”

In its Digital Britain preliminary report issued earlier this year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), acknowledged the problem of illegal file-sharing over the internet, but suggested that ISPs should only be required to notify alleged infringes of rights when there is reasonable levels of proof for such activity, and that ISPs should make anonymised information on “serious repeat infringers” available to rights-holders. Only under a court order should ISPs hand over personal details of offenders.

ISPA: licensing reform needed

The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA UK), responded to the creative industries joint statement with its secretary general, Nicholas Lansman, saying: “ISPA recognises that there is a problem with unlawful P2P [peer-to-peer] file sharing, but it is important to recognise that a major part of the solution lies in licensing reform and the availability of legal content online. ISPA remains committed to working with the Government and the creative industries to find a solution which balances the needs of all parties and is fair for consumers.”

The interest association said it “continues to dispute calls from some elements of the creative industries for the disconnection of users or technological measures as a method of dealing with potential infringers of copyright online”, and that “ISPA is disappointed that the creative industries continue to advocate legislation on enforcement without considering how the complicated licensing processes that many stakeholders believe are at the root of the problem can be reformed.”

The question over licensing processes was also acknowledged in the Digital Britain report, which questioned the system as it stands: “There is a clear and unambiguous distinction between the legal and illegal sharing of content which we must urgently address. But, we need to do so in a way that recognises that when there is very widespread behaviour and social acceptability of such behaviour that is at odds with the rules, then the rules, the business models that the rules have underpinned and the behaviour itself may all need to change.”

Quoting a study from the University of Hertfordshire, the report found that only 10% of those surveyed on attitudes towards music and copyright among young people, are currently deterred from file-sharing by a fear of being caught.

According to the creative industries’ joint statement, there were an estimated 98 million illegal downloads of films and more than 1 billion illegal downloads of music in the UK in 2007.

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