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UK Digital Economy Bill Could Fuel ISP Targeting Internet Copyright Trolls

Tuesday, Feb 14th, 2017 (11:15 am) - Score 1,353

The Open Rights Group has warned that new measures in the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill 2017 could provide ammunition to copyright trolls, which have made a business out of harassing broadband ISP subscribers with letters that demand payment for suspected Internet piracy.

The practice, which is otherwise known as “Speculative Invoicing“, is widely frowned upon due to its reliance upon fallible IP address based evidence (gathered via public P2P File Sharing networks) and for the bullying nature of its approach. People who fail to reach a settlement can be threatened with court action, although such action almost never occurs because it’s expensive and tends to fail.

Every broadband connection is assigned an Internet Protocol (IP) address and so you’d think it would be easy to identify the responsible user. However such evidence is notoriously unreliable because IPs can be spoofed, redirected or even become incorrect due to small timing errors in the ISP’s access log.

Similarly an IP address often reflects a network that is shared between many users (e.g. business or home networks, public WiFi, hotels) and thus at best you’d only be able to identify the bill payer and they might not be the guilty individual. As a result there’s a string of cases where seemingly innocent people have been targeted (example).

Unfortunately the DEBill looks set to give copyright trolls another weapon to use in their ammunition by toughening the sentencing options for people who infringe copyright laws online, such as by making the law mirror “physical infringement” (e.g. copying and selling DVDs) and attract a 10 year jail sentence.

The Government has previously stated that they are not trying to impose prison sentences for minor infringements like file sharing, although critics argue that the wording of the bill is open to interpretation and could be “exploited by unscrupulous companies.”

Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, said:

“Unscrupulous companies will seize on these proposals and use them to exploit people into paying huge fines for online infringements that they may not have committed.

The Government needs to tighten up these proposals so that only those guilty of serious commercial copyright infringements receive prison sentences.

Helping companies send threatening letters to teenagers is in no one’s interest.”

At the same time the Government has been working with BT, Sky Broadband, Virgin Media, Plusnet, TalkTalk and NOW TV to introduce a new voluntary system of Internet piracy warning messages (aka – “subscriber alerts” or “educational emails“), but unlike copyright trolls this system merely warns the account owner of such activity (here) and at worst it may issue further such messages in the future (after a 20 day period of grace).

The above system has only been running for a month and so it’s too early to know how successful it’s been, although similar systems in other countries have recently been shelved due to their cost, unpopularity and lack of tangible results. Mind you those countries are not the UK, where personal privacy and freedoms appear to have become an increasingly disposable commodity for MPs.

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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