New battle-lines are being drawn in the complex debatesurrounding file-sharing after the government released proposals earlier thisweek to cut off all Internet access for persistent file-sharers.
In the recent Digital Britain report, Ofcom had been givenuntil 2012 to find a workable solution to the problem, but according to StephenTimms, minister for Digital Britain, technology and consumer behaviour waschanging so fast that Ofcom needed to have the “flexibility to respond quicklyto deal with unlawful file-sharing”.
“We’ve been listening carefully to responses tothe consultation this far, and it’s become clear there are widespread concernsthat the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rightsholders,” added Timms.
John Lovelock, chief executive of the Federation AgainstSoftware Theft (FAST) took a hard line and welcomed Westminster’s proposals.
“This is an unexpected but very welcome development for thefuture of the UK’screative industries,” he said. “The Digital Britain work is set to go on until2012, so it is heartening that the government has decided to look into practicalsolutions that will offer help to some of the most vibrant sectors in the UKeconomy.”
“Having the power to cut off serious infringers’ access tothe Internet, provided the evidence is there, would take away their ability toaccess and distribute content they have no right to in the first place”Lovelock added.
But availability of evidence has been cited by many Internetexperts and ISPs as a reason why Lord Mandelson’s plans are unworkable. Theconsequences of, for example, cutting off whole families to atone for theactions of one teenager or potentially depriving many of access to possiblyvital information, such as the NHS’ flu pandemic service, were widely cited.
Statistics have also been produced suggesting that filesharers actually spent more per capita on legal digital content.
Consumer ISP Virgin Media said the government should use “persuasion,not coercion” and instead fund the development of legitimate content services.
BT consumer managing director John Petter told reporters: “Wewere broadly supportive of the original plans but these changes run the risk ofpenalising customers unfairly. We believe the creative industries need to playa larger role in tackling copyright infringement.”
The Featured Artists Coalition, an organisation set up byrecording artists to foster the development of legitimate services, has alsopreviously spoken out against outright criminalisation.
“Itis simply disproportionate and unfair to lump ordinary music fans into the samecategory as large-scale, profit-making infringers like the Pirate Bay,” saidassociation member and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, speaking at the originallaunch of the Digital Britain report.
Francisco Mingorance, senior director of public policy for Europe at the Business Software Alliance said thatalthough online piracy represented a serious threat to copyright-basedindustries, policy makers should not lose sight of the fact that the majorityof individuals and businesses were using the Internet for a myriad of legal and legitimate personal andbusiness reasons.
“While filteringtechnologies may play a useful role in helping to address P2P piracy, it is nota ‘silver bullet’ solution, and BSA cautions the UK Government againsttechnical mandates on the use of filtering or filtering technologies whichcould impede innovation,” he said.
“The BSA urges policy makers not to push hastily forlegislation which would have unintended consequences. The current voluntary,industry-led approach to developing technologies to address online contentpiracy continues to be effective and mandated use of any such technologies isnot justifiable,” Mingorance continued.