U.K. Bill Cracks Down on Filesharing

Stephen Yagielowicz
LONDON — A bill is working its way through Parliament that would fight illegal filesharing, by in part, cutting Internet access to those engaging in the practice.

The Digital Economy Bill reportedly follows many of the recommendations established by the Digital Britain movement, which among other issues, seeks universal broadband access and revisions to age verification laws.

The bill is summarized as being intended "To make provision about the functions of the Office of Communications; to make provision about the online infringement of copyright, about licensing of copyright and performers' rights and about penalties for infringement; to make provision about Internet domain registries; to make provision about the functions of the Channel Four Television Corporation; to make provision about the regulation of television and radio services; to make provision about the regulation of the use of the electromagnetic spectrum; to amend the Video Recordings Act 1984; to make provision about public lending right in relation to electronic publications; and for connected purposes."

Initially aiming to reduce digital piracy by 70 percent by requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to issue warning letters to those customers using their networks for filesharing, the bill carries with it the possibility of further actions, including the suspension of Internet access by violators. Rights holders will be expected to pay a fee, to be determined by Ofcom, to cover the ISP's costs of sending these letters.

According to Minister for Digital Britain Stephen Timms, the letter sending should end much of the problem, with the level of compliance being monitored by Ofcom, which is now measuring the level of illegal filesharing in the U.K.

Timms emphasized that technical measures such as bandwidth caps and daily download limits, along with outright account closures, however, should be "very much the last resort."

"We hope to encourage rights holders and ISPs to work together to find new business models," Timms said, adding that while the government would not seek criminal penalties for filesharing, rights holders could pursue civil charges.

The music industry, among others, welcomes the bill.

"The introduction of the Digital Economy Bill is an important milestone towards a sustainable future for British music in the digital age," British Phonographic Industry CEO Geoff Taylor said. "While the focus has been on measures to tackle illegal P2P, it is significant that the Government has recognized the need for a mechanism to deal with other forms of illegal downloading."

"Our focus is not to disconnect, but to reconnect," UK Music CEO Feargal Sharkey offered. "To reaffirm and recognize the value of creative works, both to individuals and to the U.K. 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," Sharkey added. "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."

Not everyone is pleased, however, including some ISPs and filesharing advocates.

"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," Managing Director of BT Consumer, John Petter, said. "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 U.K.'s creative industries."

"This is a major attack on free speech and human rights," Pirate Party U.K. leader Andrew Robinson, opined. "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."