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Education Coalition Warns ISP Anti-Piracy Act Will Limit UK Internet Access

Tuesday, Jul 17th, 2012 (1:35 pm) - Score 662

A huge coalition of eight leading educational organisations, including UK libraries and school groups, has launched a scathing attack on the government’s controversial Digital Economy Act (DEAct) and warned that it “risks limiting internet access” for students and teachers right across the country.

The Act itself aims to impose tough new rules upon internet providers, which in some cases could result in customers being “suspended” (disconnected) from their internet access. Part of the reason for this is because broadband ISPs can at best only identify the connection owner, whom may or may not be the one responsible for committing an offence (i.e. internet copyright infringement).

This becomes a particularly dangerous problem for shared home / business networks (hotels, offices etc.) and educational establishments, where huge numbers of different people make use of such access. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), which leads the coalition, points out that half of people who use the internet in a public space did so in a public library.

Crucially CILIP reminds that the government’s own Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, last year issued a written assurance stating that, “libraries and universities will not be within scope of the obligations” of the Act. Indeed Ofcom’s new Initial Obligations Code does provide for a limited exclusion of libraries but CILIP remains concerned that confusion over the definition of a “subscriber” and “communications provider” could still result in many related establishments being unfairly penalised.

Phil Bradley, President of the CILIP, said:

Under the Act libraries would be treated the same as an individual at home going online. A library acting as an intermediary, providing internet access to hundreds if not thousands of people is fundamentally different from you or I going online at home.

This isn’t about excluding libraries from the Act, it isn’t about breaking copyright law or endorsing piracy – it’s about recognising libraries’ unique role by creating an exception within the Act – which Ofcom are perfectly able to do. Ofcom are already creating an exception for commercial suppliers of WiFi for example.”

It’s easy to understand CILIP’s concern, with Ofcom’s code appearing to be somewhat conflicted. At one point the code seems to exclude such organisations by categorising them as “communication providers” or ISPs, before later claiming to recognise “that there are likely to be cases where such categorisation may be less clear cut“. The British Library argued the “definitions” section was confusing, not mutually exclusive and gave little clarity for public intermediaries.

The coalition supports the intention of the Act – to fight piracy and protect content creators’ rights – but wants Ofcom’s code to be clearer so that “libraries, schools, colleges and universities [are not treated] in the same way as private individuals“. CILIP fears that the act could have the “unintended consequence [of] inhibiting education, learning and the acquisition of knowledge“. Well it’s harder to learn if the plug on your access has been pulled.

CILIP’s coalition, which wants Ofcom to create a separate category to protect them, includes Research Libraries UK, The Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, Universities UK, the Society of College, National and University Libraries, the Scottish Library & Information Council, Scotland’s Colleges and the Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance.

A consultation on Ofcom’s revised code will be open until 26th July 2012 and, once complete, it will be submitted to the European Commission (EC) for final approval.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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