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By: MarkJ - 28 October, 2009 (12:00 PM)
pirate flagThe government’s business secretary, Lord Peter Mandelson, has confirmed that the UK will begin adopting the controversial "Three-Strikes" system to tackle illegal file sharing downloads from April next year. Sadly account suspension, where a "suspected" abuser is removed from their broadband ISP following several warning notices, will indeed be part of the system for repeat offenders.

Mandelson informed the c&binet conference that if the amount of illegal downloading had not dropped by 70% come April 2011 then measures to cut-off file sharers would be imposed from July 2011 onwards. Those suspected of such activity could expect to receive several warning letters prior to such an action taking place and also have their details passed to Rights Holders for their own legal pursuits.

The Government expects that warning notifications, followed up with targeted legal action by rights holders, should be the only enforcement action required to significantly reduce the level of unlawful file-sharing. Technical measures, such as disconnection and speed restrictions etc., would be kept in reserve as a "last resort".

Lord Mandelson said:

“It’s clear that whilst unlawful file-sharing excites a strong response from all sides, it is not a victimless act. It is a genuine threat to our creative industries. The creative sector has faced challenges to protected formats before. But the threat faced today from online infringement, particularly unlawful file-sharing, is of a different scale altogether. We cannot sit back and do nothing.

“We will put in place a fair, thorough process, involving clear warnings to people suspected of unlawful file-sharing, with technical measures such as account suspension only used as a very last resort. Only persistent rule breakers would be affected - and there would be an independent, clear and easy appeals process to ensure that the correct infringer is penalised.”

ISPreview waits to see precisely how this "clear and easy appeals process" is structured; we can't help but wonder how somebody who has had a WEP secured Wi-Fi connection hijacked would be able to defend themselves. It is after all somewhat of an evidence less crime. Similarly the precise details of how long a disconnection would last have not been revealed, though we suspect most people could probably just sign-up with a different ISP. Speaking of which..

UK ISP TalkTalk Statement:

"TalkTalk is dismayed to learn that Lord Mandelson is to press ahead with his ill-conceived plans to allow content providers to force ISPs to disconnect people suspected of illegal filesharing. The approach is based on the principle of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and substitutes proper judicial process for a kangaroo court.

What is being proposed is wrong in principle and it won’t work in practice. We know this approach will lead to wrongful accusations. The unintended consequence of Lord Mandelson’s plan will be to encourage more wi-fi and PC hi-jacking and expose more innocent people to being penalised.

TalkTalk will continue to resist any attempts to make it impose technical measures on its customers unless directed to do so by a court or recognised tribunal. In the event we are instructed to impose extra judicial technical measures we will challenge the instruction in the courts."

Other ISPs will probably not go as far as TalkTalk in defending their stance, with most choosing to quietly go along with the government line. However there is still strong underlying opposition to the disconnection method and you can expect to see more of that coming out soon.

Mandelson did agree that more education and new business models were also needed to help combat the attractiveness of illegal downloading. We suspect that such calls will fall on deaf ears since so far Rights Holders have proven themselves somewhat unwilling to support innovative new distribution methods.

In other areas, Lord Mandelson said there was a case for copyright laws to be modernised to reflect reasonable consumer behaviour which did not damage the sustainability of the creative industries. This would mean that, for example, someone who has bought a CD would be able to copy it to their iPod or share it with family members without acting unlawfully.

UK ISPs will also be pleased to learn that they would not be expected to bear the full cost of implementing and delivering the notifications to suspected infringers. A flat fee per notification will be set, payable by the rights holder, in a way that incentivises both rights holders and ISPs to keep the process efficient and cost effective. The Government will publish its response to the consultation on unlawful peer-to-peer file-sharing in parallel with the Digital Economy Bill, in late November.

UPDATE - 3:57pm

Comment from the Which? consumer magazine.

Which? campaigner, Clare Corbett says:

"Introducing a tiered response to illegal filesharing is a good idea in theory, but only if the right people are targeted.

While Which? does not condone illegal filesharing, innocent people are receiving what they feel are threatening letters demanding immediate payment for supposed illegal downloading. For many people, fighting an accusation is far too costly and stressful, leaving them no option but to pay up.

The government must ensure that people who have been wrongly accused of illegal filesharing have access to a fair, free and quick independent adjudication system and that any penalties are proportionate."

UPDATE - 29th October 09:58am

Reaction from Entanet.

UK ISP Entanet said:

"Like most communications and Internet service providers, Entanet strongly believes that simply providing access to the Internet and managing web traffic should not mean that providers are responsible for what that connection is used for. ISPs are not the Internet police!

Asking ISPs to police the Internet is like asking the Highways Agency to take responsibility for all of the accidents that happen on the roads. We are no more able to control how people use their connectivity than someone who builds and maintains roads can control the way in which people drive. All we can do is make sure that the highway is in working order, put reasonable usage policies in place and take appropriate action when it is necessary, merited and most importantly proven. Enforcement of the rules should be the responsibility of an overall governing authority and last resort actions such as disconnection should only be executed once they have been proven in court, with full access to all available evidence.

Of course we can monitor traffic, but doing this takes time, costs money and can potentially impact performance. There is already talk of the introduction of a broadband tax, so any added responsibility for monitoring is ultimately going to hurt ISPs’ and Internet users’ pockets. At a time when the UK needs considerable and continued investment in its network infrastructure, this is unwelcome to say the least.


The Internet is not going to go away and, in fact, if the UK is to remain competitive and efficient as an economy, its development and enhancement needs to be supported and driven forward by all industries.

Entanet continues on to say that the problem is not the Internet and ISPs but is actually a lack of available legal and affordable methods of download.
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