New battle-lines are being drawn in the complex debate surrounding file-sharing after the government released proposals earlier this week to cut off all Internet access for persistent file-sharers.
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In the recent Digital Britain report, Ofcom had been given until 2012 to find a workable solution to the problem, but according to Stephen Timms, minister for Digital Britain, technology and consumer behaviour was changing so fast that Ofcom needed to have the “flexibility to respond quickly to deal with unlawful file-sharing”.
“We’ve been listening carefully to responses to the consultation this far, and it’s become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders,” added Timms.
John Lovelock, chief executive of the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) took a hard line and welcomed Westminster’s proposals.
“This is an unexpected but very welcome development for the future of the UK’s creative industries,” he said. “The Digital Britain work is set to go on until 2012, so it is heartening that the government has decided to look into practical solutions that will offer help to some of the most vibrant sectors in the UK economy.”
“Having the power to cut off serious infringers’ access to the Internet, provided the evidence is there, would take away their ability to access and distribute content they have no right to in the first place”Lovelock added.
But availability of evidence has been cited by many Internet experts and ISPs as a reason why Lord Mandelson’s plans are unworkable. The consequences of, for example, cutting off whole families to atone for the actions of one teenager or potentially depriving many of access to possibly vital information, such as the NHS’ flu pandemic service, were widely cited.
Statistics have also been produced suggesting that file sharers actually spent more per capita on legal digital content.
Consumer ISP Virgin Media said the government should use “persuasion,not coercion” and instead fund the development of legitimate content services.
BT consumer managing director John Petter told reporters: “We were broadly supportive of the original plans but these changes run the risk of penalising customers unfairly. We believe the creative industries need to playa larger role in tackling copyright infringement.”
The Featured Artists Coalition, an organisation set up by recording artists to foster the development of legitimate services, has also previously spoken out against outright criminalisation.
“It is simply disproportionate and unfair to lump ordinary music fans into the same category as large-scale, profit-making infringers like the Pirate Bay,” said association member and Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, speaking at the original launch of the Digital Britain report.
Francisco Mingorance, senior director of public policy for Europe at the Business Software Alliance said that although online piracy represented a serious threat to copyright-based industries, policy makers should not lose sight of the fact that the majority of individuals and businesses were using the Internet for a myriad of legal and legitimate personal and business reasons.
“While filtering technologies may play a useful role in helping to address P2P piracy, it is nota ‘silver bullet’ solution, and BSA cautions the UK Government against technical mandates on the use of filtering or filtering technologies which could impede innovation,” he said.
“The BSA urges policy makers not to push hastily for legislation which would have unintended consequences. The current voluntary,industry-led approach to developing technologies to address online content piracy continues to be effective and mandated use of any such technologies is not justifiable,” Mingorance continued.