The Government’s proposals regarding illegal filesharers, who repeatedly pirate material from artists such as Lady Gaga, have been confirmed in the Digital Economy Bill – published today.
The bill, which aims to realise most of the commitments set out in the Digital Britain White Paper published in June, has laid out its plans to curb online piracy.
The first step towards reducing online piracy by 70 per cent will be ensuring Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Sky or Virgin, send out warning letters to those caught file-sharing on their networks. The rights holder, who has had material pirated, such as a music label like Universal Music, will pay a fixed fee, set by media regulator Ofcom, to cover the ISP’s costs of sending the letter. Stephen Timms, Minister for Digital Britain expressed his confidence that this method would be successful in ending the majority of the problem. However, if Ofcom discovers that at least 70 per cent of illegal filesharing has not stopped, Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State, has the power to apply to Parliament for secondary legislation to force the ISPs to impose technical measures such as the suspension of internet connections. Mr Timms said that Ofcom would be measuring the level of illegal downloading across the UK from “today onwards” but could not give a date by which the government would expect to have achieved a 70 per cent reduction in online piracy.
Mr Timms stressed that such technical measures were “very much the last resort”. “We hope to encourage rights holders and ISPs to work together to find new business models, ” he added, referring to examples such as Sky – which has already launched its own subscription music service called Sky Songs.
Other technical measures include: bandwidth capping and imposing a daily download limit. He also gave his assurance that there would be no criminal penalties imposed by the Government against illegal downloaders. However, rights holders can press charges. The music industry, which has lobbied the Government hard to tackle illegal downloading, has welcomed the bill. Geoff Taylor, the chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry, said:
“The introduction of the Digital Economy Bill is an important milestone towards a sustainable future for British music in the digital age. While the focus has been on measures to tackle illegal P2P, it is significant that the Government has recognised the need for a mechanism to deal with other forms of illegal downloading.”
Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of UK Music – the commercial music industry body – added:
“Our focus is not to disconnect, but to reconnect. To reaffirm and recognise the value of creative works, both to individuals and to the UK economy. “However, for this market to evolve and flourish there must be breathing space to allow all sides to adapt. Government intervention can provide that impetus. “In this wider context, our industry continues to develop and partner with emerging digital services. ISPs and tech companies must work with us, and it is imperative that we reach out together to genuine fans of music.”
However, the proposed legislation has been met with opposition too. TalkTalk, the second largest internet service provider in the UK(with more than four million customers), has publicly spoken out against the second stage of the plans which could force ISPs to disconnect illegal filesharers – saying it constituted an infringement on people’s human rights. Last month it launched a campaign against the technical measure called Don’t Disconnect Us – which had 1, 819 signatures at the time of publishing and threatened legal action. Fellow ISP BT has also voiced its concerns about the proposed measures – voicing a preference for court fines for repeat offenders. John Petter, Managing Director of BT Consumer explained:
“We believe abuse of copyright is wrong. However, we have real concerns about the government’s plans and the lack of legal protections for accused individuals. We believe that technical measures are not the way forward and that a system of court fines for repeat infringers is preferable. Such an approach would not only protect innocent people, it could also create a fund that could be used to support the UK’s creative industries.”
Andrew Robinson, the leader of the Pirate Party UK – which works to legalise non-commercial internet file-sharing – spoke out against the proposals.
“This is a major attack on free speech and human rights. All the benefits of filesharing have been ignored for the benefit of the record labels. Not only is it free advertising for the artist, but it is good for the cultural wealth of the country. No one is excluded from culture if it’s freely available.”
Separately there was no mention in the bill of the proposal to introduce a 50p levy per month on fixed telephone lines to pay for the national roll out of faster web access. This is because the introduction of a new tax, which Mr Timms pledged his commitment to, needs to be included in the Finance bill, which is due next year, before the general election. He estimated that the tax would generate £1 billion by 2017 which would ensure 90 per cent of the UK had next generation broadband.
First publication Telegraph.co.uk
Pinder Reaux & Associates