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Bandwidth and Service Limits Proposed to Curb Illegal Downloads

Posted: 15th Mar, 2009 By: MarkJ
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has published a draft set of proposals for tackling illegal broadband file sharing downloads by persistent infringers, among other things. The proposals form part of a discussion piece concerning the role that a UK Digital Rights Agency (DRA) could play.

Readers may recall that the DRA was first proposed in Lord Carters Digital Britain report during late January - Digital Britain Report – UK Illegal File Sharing Solution Proposals. Back then there were only two firm legislative proposals put forward for tackling the problem:

  1. Requiring ISPs to notify alleged infringers of rights (subject to reasonable levels of proof from rights- holders) that their conduct is unlawful.

  2. Require ISPs to collect anonymised information on serious repeat infringers (derived from their notification activities), to be made available to rights-holders together with personal details on receipt of a court order.
However many copyright holders feel that such measures alone are not enough to tackle those who persist in such activity. One earlier proposal, that of disconnecting the customer from their ISP, has already been ruled out by most.

The new discussion piece, while not going into much detail, has proposed two potential example solutions to the problem. UK ISPs could employ protocol blocking or bandwidth restrictions, in relation to persistent infringers. In other words, P2P services could be blocked or users might find their service speeds seriously restricted:

Quote from Proposals :

Development of codes of practice around enforcement measures to prevent and reduce online copyright infringement. These would need to be strong enough to be likely to make a real impact on the problem, and could include, for example, such approaches as protocol blocking or bandwidth, in relation to persistent infringers.

It's not clear whether a bandwidth restriction would only impact P2P or not, although we'd hope that would be the idea. The DRA would also seek to provide a far greater facility for tackling the problem and dealing with consumer disagreements, as outlined below:

* A commitment to explain to the public the consequences of unlawful use of copyright material. This is an important task - no matter how much effort goes into trying stop people from engaging in piracy it will only work in the long run if they understand the damage infringement has on the artists and the ongoing availability of the rich content they value.

* Facilitation of negotiation and rights clearance and discussion around standards where the different interests would find that useful. Taking into account competition concerns, there should be plenty for an agency to do in terms of making deals easier, rather than trying to get involved itself – almost certainly neither possible nor wanted by either side.

* A place where people could go to resolve disputes quickly and economically, and where consumers will find a champion where needed.

* A forum for dialogue. We sometimes underestimate the value of providing a place where those from a different industrial perspective can meet and gain appreciation of other positions and drivers, and in many ways this will underpin all other activity.

* A gateway in to the legal remedies being set out in P2P legislation, and to an informed discussion on other potential ways to deal with persistent infringement, such as road-testing technical measures.

One particularly interesting aspect of the new proposals is that it would not be limited to tackling unlawful peer to peer activity. Instead the DRA would be geared towards finding effective ways of reducing the overall levels of online copyright infringement over time, allowing for changing behaviours and technologies (i.e. it might tackle Newsgroups, FTP and other services where illegal usage takes place on a users account).

"Should there be no agreement between industry on the utilisation of such measures," says the document, "it would be for the regulator – Ofcom – to chose whether to impose such measures, judging their appropriateness and need within the policy principles within which they work."

Typically all of these proposals rest on ISPs being able to reach some kind of agreement with the creative industry. Should that fail then the "less attractive" option would be for tougher measures to be introduced through legislation. "This would be necessary if there were little prospect of an effective rights agency," says the paper.

The paper stresses that the DRA wouldn't just be setup to tackle illegal broadband ISP file sharing (P2P), it would also be a vision for facilitating a change of approach as to how content is provided, packaged and sold to consumers. That means things such as helping legal music download channels to flourish alongside ISPs.

Sadly the more complicated issues, such as how you can reliably and accurately identify illegal downloader’s on mass without being caught out by fake, redirected and or spoofed IPs and encryption isn't really touched on.

Similarly there are limits to how far UK ISPs are able to peek into the activity of their users without breaking laws, running up excessive costs or hitting technical hurdles. We would hope that this aspect is given serious attention in the main draft.

Feedback will now be taken on the paper until 30th March 2009 and the full report should follow later.
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