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UK and EU Consumer and ISP Groups Raise Copyright Law Concerns

Posted: 24th Feb, 2010 By: MarkJ
piracy and copyrightEuropean and UK Government plans to introduce new copyright laws, which could result in consumers who are "suspected" of downloading illegal content being suspended from their broadband ISP, have once again kicked up a fuss between internet providers, the music industry and consumer groups.

EuroISPA, the European Association of European Internet Service Providers (ISPs), fears that secret negotiators in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) between the EU and USA are going too far. The most recent leaks indicate that the measures under discussion would threaten fundamental rights and put the openness of the Internet at risk.

The fear is that ACTA wants to bypass the democratic system and impose new measures that could lead to graduated response, criminal sanctions, US-style 'Notice and Take Down' and force broadband ISPs, indirectly, into generalised monitoring of Internet traffic and services.

Malcolm Hutty, President of EuroISPA, argues:

"EuroISPA is concerned that the lack of transparency in negotiations is allowing neither the European Parliament nor stakeholders to enter the debate. This is a serious concern considering the crucial role played by the Internet for the development of the whole Internet industry, consumers and citizens."

In passing the Telecoms Package last year, the European Parliament forced the Council to accept new guarantees for the presumption of innocence in illegal file sharing cases and the right to a fair hearing before measures are taken. EuroISPA has called on the Parliament to be consistent with this position.

La Quadrature du Net, an advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet, echoed EurISPA's fear and warned that ACTA was seeking to turn ISPs into private Net police. It should be noted that the UK has said it will not force ISPs to monitor their customers Internet activity.

Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson of Paris-based La Quadrature du Net, said:

"This [LEAKED] document shows that ACTA would impose regulations tailored by US entertainment industries to the Internet. The civil and criminal sanctions could completely change the balance struck by current European law on Internet operators. European negotiators must oppose this circumvention of democratic processes aiming at putting Internet under total surveillance by private actors."

Elsewhere a group of UK TV and music industry personalities, including Simon Cowell and Sir Terry Pratchett, have written a letter to parliament asking them to vote in favour of the Digital Economy Bill. As usual the letter completely overlooks the bills many flaws.

The letter said:

"The [DEB will] ensure that British creators, entertainment companies, and the 1.8 million people who work in and around the cultural sector are respected and rewarded in the future as they have been in the past.

Digital entertainment services are really beginning to take off, but for these new business models to develop, it is critical that more is done to prevent the illegal services providing easy access to free content."

However according to new research from consumer group ConsumerFocus UK, which is calling on the UK Government to reform the UK's outdated copyright law before the laws lose all credibility, three out of four (73%) of us don't know what we are allowed to copy or record.

Fewer than one in five (17%) consumers know that it is illegal to copy a CD or DVD they have bought on to a computer for their own use, and even fewer (15%) think that it is illegal to copy them to an iPod. Nearly four in ten (38%) of those using either an iPod or MP3 player admit to copying CDs onto their player.

Jill Johnstone, International Director, Consumer Focus said:

"The credibility of UK copyright law has fallen through the floor. Millions of consumers are regularly copying CDs or DVDs and are unaware they are breaching copyright law.

The world has moved on and reform of copyright law is inevitable, but it’s not going to update itself. If the Government wants consumers to respect copyright law they have to stop sitting on their hands and bring the law in line with the real world."

Consumer Focus wants to see ‘fair use right’ exceptions introduced that would allow consumers to make copies of copyrighted work they have purchased provided they are for ‘non-commercial use’ - such as copying CDs or DVDs to play on a different device (format shifting). CF believes this would cause no, or minimal, economic harm to the rights holders.

Although the Government supports an exception for non-commercial use by consumers they want the EU to first define ‘non-commercial use’ – despite a non-commercial exception for consumers already forming part of UK copyright law. This could cause considerable delay.

So much for a week that began when the UK Government pledged "not [to] terminate the accounts of infringers" in its response to a small petition (here), which promptly caused an almost comical mass media hysteria. It seems most of the major newspapers simply overlooked the fact that nothing had changed.

In reality the government was toying with spin and semantics because it had always officially sought vague "temporary account suspension" and not full "termination". Talk about backtracking on something you haven't even set out to do, which is somewhat misleading.
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