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ISPs Hit Back At Digital Economy Bill

The ISPA has mounted an attack against Lord Mandelson’s strategy to deal with illegal file-sharers, laid out in the government’s Digital Economy Bill

The UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) and broadband internet service provider (ISP) TalkTalk have both slammed the proposed measures for combating illegal file-sharing, laid out in the government’s Digital Economy Bill.

The Bill, published on Friday, obliges ISPs to impose an escalating series of sanctions on any customer suspected of persistently downloading copyright material, which can include slowing down their internet connection and temporarily cutting them off from the internet.

The Bill also gives Business Secretary Lord Mandelson the power to alter copyright law, “for the purpose of preventing or reducing online copyright infringement”. These powers will be handled by “statutory instrument”, so cannot be blocked by MPs or the House of Lords.

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“ISPA is extremely disappointed by aspects of the proposals to address illicit file-sharing,” said ISPA Secretary General Nicholas Lansman in a statement. “This legislation is being fast-tracked by the government and will do little to address the underlying problem.”

He added that “Rather than focusing blindly on enforcement, the Government should be asking rights holders to reform the licensing framework so that legal content can be distributed online to consumers in a way that they are clearly demanding.”

ISPA expressed concern over the potential costs involved in implementing such a strategy, suggesting that rights holders should shoulder the financial burden, including reimbursement of ISPs’ reasonable costs. It claimed that the body should not be forced to incur costs for pursuing alleged civil infringements on behalf of a commercial interest.

ISPA also pointed out that the Bill could enable the suspension of users’ accounts without a ruling from a judicial authority and is therefore in opposition to the EU Telecoms Package, which guarantees users’ rights to a presumption of innocence and effective judicial protection.

“ISPA continues to believe strongly that a reduction in unlawful file sharing can only be achieved if the focus turns to the education of consumers and the reform of content licensing to enable legal alternatives at a fair price,” said Lansman.

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TalkTalk chief Charles Dunstone has added his voice to the opposition, describing the Digital Economy Bill as a “backward step in the efforts to reduce illegal file sharing”. The ISP has made no bones about its attitude towards the government’s file sharing strategy over the last few months, having staged a demonstration, launched an ad campaign and threatened legal action in reponse to Mandelson’s plans.

“We don’t support copyright infringement in any way but we live in the real world and understand that no amount of policing and censorship will solve the problem,” explained Dunstone in a blog post. “It doesn’t matter how many websites are blocked, how many services are shut down or how many individuals are pursued, people will always find ways to access copyrighted content for free.

“Until now the proposed legislation could be best described as unwieldy and ill-conceived. In addition it now looks to deny people freedom of speech and infringe their basic human rights. Current legislation allows for people to be taken to court and a case proved against them before action is taken and that must be maintained.”

Dunstone goes on to promise to protect customers’ details from right holders and continue to fight the legislation as it makes its way through Parliament. Like Lansman, he believes that the solution lies in education and by making content available in a form and at a price that people find acceptable. According to TalkTalk’s own research, 85% of people think there is not enough legal music and film content available on the internet at a fair price.