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By: MarkJ - 25 August, 2009 (1:11 PM)
Both Consumer Focus and the UK Internet Service Providers Association ( ISPA ) have reacted with concern to today's news that the government could force broadband ISPs to cut-off those "suspected" of involvement with illegal file sharing piracy (original news).

Larry Whitty, Chairman of Consumer Focus, said:

“Cutting people off the internet for allegedly infringing copyright is disproportionate. And to do so without giving consumers the right to challenge the evidence against them undermines fundamental rights to a fair trial.

It would be unfair to enforce this law in an area where millions of consumers are not clear on what is allowed and what is not. Unless a better solution can be found substantial elements of the population will be criminalised.

Illegal file sharing should not be condoned but millions do it daily. The rise of this activity is a consequence of the creative industries failure to deliver products that consumers want. The industry should get its own house in order rather than promote punitive measures like this.

The Government originally proposed to tackle illegal file sharing by sending warning letters and taking court action before technical measures can be imposed. This approach would be fairer, more proportionate and better respect consumer rights.”

The ISPA has expressed similar "concern" over the matter, not least because the amendments were proposed without consultation with the Internet Industry. They add that ISPs and consumer groups consider disconnection of users to be a disproportionate response, a view that was recently supported by the European Parliament.

ISPA Secretary General, Nicholas Lansman, said:

"ISPA is committed to working with members, rights holders and Government to reduce unlawful filesharing over P2P networks and will be responding formally to this consultation. ISPA is disappointed that the Government has chosen to take action to amend an open consultation before most stakeholders have had an opportunity to comment on the original proposals."

In addition the ISPA doesn't like the idea of giving the governments Secretary of State the power to determine when a system that includes imposing technical sanctions on users should be introduced. They fear this could politicise the process and would be a negative step.

Meanwhile everybody appears to have raised an eyebrow at how the costs for imposing all these new and existing measures would be split between ISPs and Rights Holders. Nobody knows how this would be determined or whether the right balance of fairness could be found, not forgetting that the costs would ultimately be passed on to customers.

UPDATE - 26th August @ 07:57am

More ISP and industry reactions have been flowing in, showing that nearly every broadband provider has been angered by the move. Furthermore, reports claim that even a number of Labour MP's are not too pleased with the sudden U-Turn.

UK ISP TalkTalk said:

"We're dismayed by the U-turn on illegal filesharing announced today by Lord Mandelson. Barely two months after the publication of largely sensible and pragmatic measures to tackle the problem (in the Digital Britain Report) Lord Mandelson has, it seems, caved in under pressure from powerful lobbyists in the content industry.

TalkTalk broadly supported proposals outlined in the Digital Britain Report to address illegal filesharing through education, letters to alleged offenders and court-based action against serious offenders.

Introducing measures such as disconnection at the instigation of the Secretary of State will sidestep proper scrutiny, likely breach fundamental human rights and result in innocent people being disconnected or, worse, prosecuted. What’s more, they will not work.

Disconnecting alleged offenders will be futile given that it is relatively easy for determined filesharers to mask their identity or their activity to avoid detection. The evidence that is used to identify offenders is unreliable due to the prevalence of multi-users per account and wifi-hijacking and so will result in innocent customers being cut-off from broadband.

We also believe that these measures will breach fundamental human rights to privacy, data protection and basic freedoms from intrusion and monitoring. If disconnection is carried out in an extra-judicial way alleged offenders will be denied basic legal rights such as right of appeal and the ability to see and interrogate the evidence. This is a view shared by consumer groups.

TalkTalk will strongly resist any attempts to introduce laws that would put obligations on ISPs to act as ‘internet police’ and implement technical measures against their consumers."

The BPI (Rights Holder) said:

"Digital piracy is a serious problem and a real threat to the UK's creative industries. Today is a step forward that should help the legal digital market to grow for consumers."

The Open Rights Group said:

"This is the wrong moment to go in this direction. Online music revenues are going up, illicit filesharing is going down. Instead of letting the market solve the problems, the government seems intent on heavy-handed intervention, that could include disconnection and other account restrictions. This would be in direct contravention of their own goal of universal broadband access, as well as a curtailment of people’s freedom of expression.

Yet again, we see knee-jerk reactions and policy swerves, this time in direct contravention of the government’s own consultation guidelines. Those guidelines are there for a reason: to make sure government policy is balanced and considered. We will be making a formal complaint."

Several other ISPs, including BT and Virgin Media UK, have also added their support to many of the comments above with similar remarks. Indeed there does appear to be a strong consensus building against this latest move. It's interesting to note that quite a few ISPs appear to have given way to support the original Digital Britain report’s conclusions, which is quite a turn around. All credit to Labour's Lord Peter Mandelson for screwing it up again.

We note that even the Conservative MP, John Whittingdale - a strong supporter of measures to prevent illegal file sharing, thinks Mandelson may have gone too far with some of his changes (e.g. the "cut-off" measure). Whittingdale hinted that opposition is likely to be strong, thus ironically Mandelson might have inadvertently delayed the bill until after the next general election.
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