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Education Institutions and Hotels Seek Exemption from UK Digital Economy Bill

Posted: 05th Feb, 2010 By: MarkJ
p2p piracyThe British Hospitality Association (BHA), which has been representing the hotel, restaurant and catering industry for 100 years, warns that the Digital Economy Bill "will have serious consequences" for UK hotels offering broadband Internet access to their customers.

The controversial bill seeks to warn and ultimately punish people who are "suspected" of unlawfully downloading copyright files over their Internet Service Provider's (ISP) connection. Unfortunately the methods it will employ cannot accurately identify a specific individual and thus any owner of a shared home/business network or public service, such as Hotels or Libraries, could be unfairly penalised.

The BHA Statement

The Bill follows the launch in 2009 of the European Data Retention Directive which will force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to trace and identify the source, destination, type and time/duration of Internet communications.

The UK Government subsequently drafted a Digital Economy Bill aimed at ISPs identifying individuals illegally downloading (termed as 'copyright infringements'). The ISP would then have to issue a report which would include a description of the apparent infringements, evidence, information about copyright and its purpose, advice on how to obtain lawful access to copyright works and about the protection of electronic communications networks.

While liability rests with the ISPs to identify rooms where an infringement had taken place, hotels would be required to provide guest details and then issue the guest with the copyright report.

The BHA's first concern is that whilst it is relatively easy to identify wired users, wireless users can be significantly more difficult and those using a prepaid card will be impossible to identify.

In addition, the copyright infringement notices will usually be received about two or three days after the alleged incident occurs. In a hotel environment this means the guest is highly likely to have checked out by the time the notification is received.

Secondly, if the broadband connection continues to 'offend' over an as-yet unspecified period of time, then the ISP is obliged to take 'technical measures', which include disconnection - even though it will be almost impossible for those providing public Internet access to identify whether the user is someone who has previously offended or not.

Disconnection would endanger a hotel's business which, in the BHA's view, would be a grossly unfair consequence of a guest's action.

The BHA is actually incorrect about one point, perhaps due to a lack of technical knowledge, because it is not the ISPs "liability" or responsibility to identify specific "rooms" where an infringement has taken place; that is quite literally impossible.

The ISP can only identify the owner of a connection (i.e. the hotel itself) and not individual users on a shared local network, hence the situation is in fact far more serious than the BHA may realise. But it's not just Hotels and consumers with concerns. Some 40 representatives from universities, libraries and schools have now written a letter to Lord Puttnam expressing identical fears.

The Letter said:

"Because public institutions often provide internet access to hundreds or thousands of individual users, the complexity of our position in relation to copyright infringements must be taken into consideration.

If this is not done, a public institution such as a library, school or university’s internet connection as a whole could be jeopardised, resulting in loss of internet access to large sections of the public, particularly the 15 million citizens without an internet connection at home."

In addition the government’s minister for Creative Industries, Sion Simon, has just announced that he will step down during the February recess. That's kind of a problem for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport because Simon is responsible for pushing the legislation through parliament; queue a big rush to find his replacement.

As it stands the Digital Economy Bill appears to be deeply flawed, largely due to a complete and utter lack of basic technical understanding as repeatedly shown by most politicians, rights holders and a few big name music “stars” (hi Bono). IP addresses are not and never have been a reliable means of accurately identifying specific individuals.
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