Monopoly ISP operates “Kang-Karoo Court” and punishes users beyond the demands of the music industry
Consumer groups are up in arms after a UK Internet service provider with a local monopoly disconnected customers who used the file-sharing protocol BitTorren and required them not to use it before reconnecting them.
Karoo, the ISP arm of Hull’s Kingston Communications, disconnected users who were file-sharing, according to a BBC report, and has refused to reconnect them until they sign a document swearing not to do it again. The action has drawn anger from consumer groups, as Karoo is the only ISP in the Hull area, because of the local monopoly of Kingston Communications.
“Rights holders and internet service providers cannot be prosecutor, judge and jury,” said Jill Johnstone, director of Consumer Focus. “To cut people off the internet for allegedly infringing copyright is disproportionate. And to do so without giving consumers the right to challenge the evidence against them is unacceptable.”
“Internet access is crucial for freedom of expression in the digital age,” said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. “It’s also how people do business and gain an education. A monopoly like Karoo cannot be allowed to arbitrarily decide when to limit our fundamental human rights. Only courts can do that. People are being found guilty by a Kang-Karoo court.”
The ISP says the action is “rsponsible”: when a copyright owner notifies them that content is being shared, it shuts the suspected culprit off, and refuses to reconnect them until they promise not to do it again. However, immediate shut-down goes beyond any other ISP, and is beyond any measures likely to be called for in the Government’s Digital Economy Bill, which gives the regulator Ofcom the responsibility for reducing illegal file-sharing. The music industry has called for a “three-strikes” rule where supposed pirates get two warnings before losing connectivity.
Users have to admit their guilt before being allowed to reconnect, according one victim of the policy, Andrea Robinson, told the BBC.
“We want all of our customers to be able to get the most out of their Karoo broadband and to be able to use their connection safely and responsibly,” said a prepared statement from the provider. “Unfortunately the online activity by a minority of users can have a detrimental effect on those who are surfing responsibly.”
The action could find Karoo in breach of citizens’ rights, as politicians are increasingly seeing Internet connectivity as a basic human right. The European Parliament has two members who support the Pirate Party, and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said Internet connectivity is as basic as heat and light.
Stephen Fry has defended file sharing as an effective way to deliver content, which copyright owners could do more to exploit.
Hull has no BT lines as the local authority bought the telephony licence for the area in 1902, and operated local telephones before floating Kingston Communications in 1999. Users who can’t get Karoo connection have to use mobile broadband, or do without.