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UPDATE2 UK Broadband ISPs Respond to Ofcoms Copyright Infringement Code

Posted: 01st Jun, 2010 By: MarkJ
Several broadband ISPs, including O2 and Virgin Media UK, have this morning begun issuing their reactions to last week's publication of a draft 'Online Copyright Infringement Initial Obligations Code' consultation by Ofcom (code summary). Most of the early responses are somewhat soft, which is to be expected. The first document does not touch on the most contentious area of technical measures (customer punishments).

The initial code, a requirement of the recently passed Digital Economy Act (DEA), seeks mostly to tackle unlawful copyright file sharing (P2P) by, among other things, issuing warning notices (letters) to customers when such activity is detected. Most of the big providers have already given a passive agreement to this, therefore we do not expect much dirt to be thrown until the consultations covering costs and enforcement surface between July and September.

An O2 spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

"When the Digital Economy Act was passing through Parliament, O2 campaigned hard to make clear to politicians from all parties that an elaborate scheme to send threatening letters to customers was a distraction from the real answer. The best way for the creative industries to solve the problem of copyright breaches is to embrace new internet business models that enable customers to legally consume the content they want, when they want it and in a format they want, for a fair price.

The Bill is now law and Ofcom has the job of determining how it will work in practice. We are in discussion with Ofcom about their proposals and will be responding to their consultation to make sure that our customers will be treated fairly when the new law comes into force. In particular we are pushing for clear and agreed standards of proof for customers accused of breaching copyright, and a straightforward and effective appeals mechanism for customers who believe they have been wrongly accused."

A Virgin Media spokesperson said:

"We remain committed to responsibly tackling online piracy and will continue to work with the government, rights owners and the industry to materially reduce the level of illegal file-sharing. However, any legislative measures need to work alongside innovative commercial solutions if they are to truly tackle the issue and we remain focused on developing new services as the digital age gathers pace."

A TalkTalk Statement to ISPreview.co.uk:

"Ofcom's draft code of practice is a valiant attempt to implement the hospital pass it was given in the Digital Economy Act, but we think it has the potential to turn into a bureaucratic dog's breakfast. As the code stands, millions of customers would be at risk of being falsely accused of copyright infringement, being falsely put onto an 'offenders' register' and so potentially taken to court. Also, the draft code exempts smaller ISPs and mobile operators, which seems arbitary and could lead to market distortion.

The government is separately consulting on whether copyright owners should reimburse the significant costs that ISPs will incur to operate this letter-writing process. Copyright owners are the only ones that will benefit from this system, so unless the government decides that these companies should fully reimburse ISPs' costs, broadband customers will in effect be forced to subsidise the profits of large music and film companies."

A BT spokesman commented:

"This is a detailed and complex document which we will be reviewing over the coming weeks. However our initial reaction is that Ofcom’s proposal to limit the obligations to just seven fixed operators and exclude mobile operators and fixed ISPs with less than 400k subscribers is concerning.

The UK currently boasts a highly competitive broadband market and we believe that such a move has serious potential to distort the market. We will be submitting our full response to Ofcom by the required deadline of 30th July 2010."

A Zen Internet spokeswoman added:

"Zen Internet welcomes and supports the principles of copyright protection but is extremely concerned that the recent quick introduction through Government of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) now makes us legally obliged to warn and ultimately disconnect our law abiding customers wrongly accused of illegal file sharing.

The risk to customers who are non technical and unaware of the ease in which their home networks can be accessed without their knowledge is a very real concern for us as it should be for them.

Zen Internet remains committed to respecting the privacy of our customers and will always abide by any applicable law however we will not give up the identity of any of our customers "allegedly" infringing copyright unless the request comes to us in the form of a legal court order."

The long bank holiday weekend has slowed everybody down but we hope to post more updates and reactions as the day progresses. This article will be updated as new comments arrive.

UPDATE 08:55am

Added a reply from TalkTalk, which is much more scathing in its opinions than the early comments. Hardly unexpected though because they have been an outspoken defender of consumers, at least on this subject, for some time now.

It's interesting to see the largest ISPs venting frustration and annoyance at the exclusion of smaller providers, which is something BT has also done. We suspect that it would not distort the market to the degree being feared. Even if it did then wouldn't that mean less costs being placed upon the big boys due to fewer copyright infringing customers and fewer bandwidth hogs? Hard to say.

In any case we cannot see how ISPs with just a few thousand customers, or even a few hundred, can realistically be expected to afford what has been proposed. Small ISPs simply do not have economics of scale on their side and related services cost more than the big boys. Indeed you could perhaps argue that forcing only the largest providers to adhere might benefit competition by levelling the playing field a bit.

UPDATE 2nd June

Added BT's standard statement. Sky Broadband have also told us that they will not comment, which is unsurprising given their support of Rights Holders and a focus on media content more than internet access.

UPDATE 8th June

It may be eight days late but we have added a comment from Zen Internet too.
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