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UPDATE UK Film Council Calls for ISP Disconnection of Illegal Broadband File Sharers

Posted: 12th May, 2009 By: MarkJ
The UK Film Council, a government-backed lead agency for film, has called for persistent illegal broadband file sharers (P2P) to be forcibly removed (cut-off) from their ISPs. The group claims that over 50% of UK Internet traffic comes from illegal content, though it's not known how they arrived at that figure.

Last year saw six of the UK's largest ISPs agree to a new 'Memorandum of Understanding' (MoU) with the creative industry (news), which set out a principal of sending warning letters to those accused of downloading illegal music or movies etc. It was hoped that this would be followed by a voluntary solution for tackling repeat offenders, although to date no such agreement has surfaced.

The government’s target of reducing illegal file-sharing by 70 to 80% within two years is now at risk, while ISPs continue to argue that they are merely "conduits" of data and not "gatekeepers". Meanwhile the council predicts a "lawless free-for-all" unless the government acts to protect their content:

John Woodward, Head of the UK Film Council, told BBC News Online : "The growing threat of illegal P2P (peer to peer) file-sharing threatens [the creative industries], as films go unmade, DVD sales deteriorate and jobs are lost in production and distribution of content."

Many people view Internet access is as being just as important to them as their electricity supply. Removing such a vital connection based purely on a suspicion of wrong-doing, which could easily be incorrect, seems unjust (presumed guilt without trial).

Media firms typically track suspected illegal P2P activity to IP addresses, which are assigned to every computer when you go online, yet IP's can easily be spoofed, redirected, shared over big networks or even hijacked (open Wi-Fi network etc.). The transfer itself could also be encrypted, making it nearly impossible for the ISP to verify.

The only true way to tell if somebody has done something illegal is to analyse their computers hard disk drive, otherwise you could just as easily end up targeting innocent users, which has already happened on a number of occasions.

The UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) once said: "ISPs are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the Post Office is able to open every envelope." ISPs cannot detect illegal traffic, unless they know exactly what traffic is illegal - a catch 22.

Never the less, warnings alone are clearly not enough to satisfy the creative industry and some sort of solution does need to be found. Alternative ideas, such as legalising illegal file-sharing by charging a tax on all connections, have been proposed (yesterdays news) but also come with drawbacks.

Restricting or limiting access to P2P specific services might be one way forward. In an ISPreview survey earlier this year over 20% showed some approval for restricting P2P access, while nearly 15% preferred the idea of restricting service speed. This would of course only be applied to those whom have received several warnings beforehand.

Ultimately ISPs aren't a police force and do not own content on the Internet (user websites notwithstanding etc.), though they do control access to it, albeit not in the same defined way as a cinema controls access to its screens. Ironically this argument may not stand up if some ISPs choose to oppose net neutrality and start showing favouritism to specific online services. They would then become the gatekeepers.

UPDATE @ 1:07pm :

The ISPA informs us that an alliance of creative industries including the BPI, FACT and the National Union of Journalists is also making a similar statement today. This will call for urgent action against illegal downloaders.

The statement will be made at a London conference, The Future of the Creative Economy. The ISPA has issued the following statement in response to both new calls.

ISPA Response to the Creative Industries Organisations

The statement rightly calls for a Government policy that 'must ensure that the future of Broadband in the UK will be the safe and secure delivery of legal content'. Internet companies remain extremely frustrated by the ongoing difficulties in securing licensing that is needed to offer consumers legal alternatives through new models of online content distribution. It is our view that legislation on enforcement should only be introduced on the condition that the rights holder industry commits to significant licensing reform.

ISPA 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. ISPA members have consistently explained that significant technological advances would be required if these measures are to reach a standard where they would be admissible as evidence in court. ISPs and consumer groups consider disconnection of users to be a disproportionate response, a view that was recently supported by the European Parliament.

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. ISPA understands that the Government is currently considering legislative proposals and is in regular contact with relevant officials.

ISPA Secretary General Nicholas Lansman said, "ISPA recognises that there is a problem with unlawful P2P 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."
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