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Digital Act To Create Pirate ISPs In UK

Service providers will split up to make smaller ‘pirate’ ISPs, in response to Ofcom’s draconian file-sharing proposals, says the Pirate Party

British anti-copyright group, Pirate Party UK, has predicted that “Pirate ISPs” will spring up across the country – promoting online privacy and allowing users to share files anonymously online – in response to proposals for implementing the Digital Economy Act.

The regulator Ofcom is currently working on a proposal for tackling illegal file-sharing and copyright infringement, in accordance with the Digital Economy Act. According to the first draft of Ofcom’s code of practice, published in May, the IP address of anyone caught committing online copyright infringement three times will be added to a ‘blacklist’ held by their Internet service provider.

This arrangement would force service providers to effectively “police” customers who may be downloading copyrighted content. They will be expected to track the activity of known copyright infringers and pass those details onto copyright owners, enabling them to pursue suspensions through the courts.

However, the Ofcom proposals only apply to large ISPs, which the Pirate Party says will drive mid-size ISPs to break into smaller companies which fall outside the rules – creating a wave of so-called “Pirate ISPs” in the UK.

Industry opposition

Ofcom’s proposed ‘Three Strikes’ rule has met with furious criticism from some members of the industry – including BT and TalkTalk, who have called for a judicial review by the High Court. According to Pirate Party UK, this makes ISPs in Britain the “natural allies” of the party.

“The Pirate Party UK is fighting on the same side as ISPs against Labour’s Digital Economy Act, which places huge burdens on ISPs, forcing them to become Hollywood’s unpaid vigilante police force,” party leader Andrew Robinson told eWEEK Europe. “We are cheering on Talk Talk and BT in their legal fight against the Act, while keeping up the pressure on the new government to repeal it, and working with Ofcom to introduce more fairness into the Act if it isn’t repealed.”

One of the operators’ main objections is that the Act’s measures to curb online copyright infringement did not receive sufficient scrutiny when the bill was passing through Parliament. BT Retail chief executive Gavin Patterson said that further clarity was needed about whether the legislation is even compatible with EU laws.

One clause of the Digital Economy Act exempts small ISPs with less than 400,000 users from the rules. According to Pirate Party UK, this automatically makes them more pirate friendly than large ISPs, and provides an opportunity for Pirate ISPs to be set up, which also avoid the heavy financial cost of implemting the Ofcom rules.

“If this strange arbitrary limit does come into effect, we expect existing ISPs will react by splitting and regrouping to take advantage of the cost savings and customer benefits of being smaller,” explained Robinson, “so we can look forward to having a wide range of Pirate ISPs in this country, without the party having to set one up!”

Swedish Pirate ISP

Today it was reported that the Pirate Party in Sweden (PiratPartiet) has announced plans to launch the world’s first “Pirate ISP”. The move is in response to the increasing use of online surveillance in the country, in what PiratPartiet describes as the “big brother society”.

“The Pirate ISP is needed in different ways,” said Gustav Nipe, CEO of the new Pirate ISP service in Sweden. “One is to compete with other ISPs, let them fight more for our Internet. If they don’t behave there will always be someone else taking their share.”

More: Activists have warned that Ofcom’s proposed code may be unlawful