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Government file-sharing options rejected by industry

None of the Government's proposed solutions to illegal file-sharing received the backing of the two main industries involved, the internet service provider (ISP) and content industries. The Government will publish fresh plans by the end of the month.20 Jan 2009

The Financial Times claims it has seen a draft of those plans, and that they will force ISPs to warn illegal file-sharing customers that they are engaged in copyright infringement and that they will collect incriminating data which will be passed on to content producers who obtain a warrant for it.

The Government consulted with industry and the public last year and has just published the responses to its plans. It had been keen for the ISP and content industries to come to their own resolution of the problem of how to tackle copyright-infringing peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing. The consultation responses make it clear that the industries have not come to an agreement.

In the past two years governments and content producing companies have been keen to implement systems which involve an ISP warning customers it believes are illegally file sharing and asking them to stop. For repeated sharing they would be disconnected from the internet.

ISPs have resisted the implementation of such a system, though the biggest ISPs last year signed up to a Government-brokered Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with content companies by which they agreed to send out warnings to 1,000 alleged file sharers.

ISPs rejected the idea of a three-strikes-and-you're-out disconnection regime. "No ISP was in favour of any regulatory solution (including co-regulation)," said an account of the responses to the consultation produced by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR).

"Almost all suggested the way to deal with P2P was through the provision of legal offers, education and the use of the existing legal system to enforce copyright holders rights," it said.

ISPs told the consultation that the imposition of a three-strikes system would damage their business and would be unfair.

"Sky considers it fundamental to any solution that it is not imposed on ISPs either through legislation or regulation," said BSkyB's consultation response. "Any artificial interference with the business models of ISPs is likely to jeopardise the development of the ISP industry and reduce incentives for investment in infrastructure etc."

“[Imposing costs on ISPs is] a tax on the legitimate internet use," said Orange.

Content producers and representatives of rights holders told the Government that they did want a co-regulatory regime in which ISPs would take responsibility for stopping piracy.

"We have long held that it is the combination of informing consumers about the impact of copyright infringement, continuing to develop new digital music services and increasing enforcement against illegal activity which will be the most effective approach in tackling illegal file-sharing," said music industry body the BPI.

Consumer groups and individuals expressed serious reservations about the privacy implications of such a system.

"Significant concern focused on the reliability of the evidence of infringements," said the Government's report. "This issue was seen as a market failure and not a regulatory one."

The Government has said that if the ISP and content industries could not reach agreement on a system to combat piracy that it would impose one.

The Financial Times report claims that the Government's Digital Britain report will force ISPs to warn customers they suspect of illegal file-sharing and to collect the data leading to that suspicion. The data would then be available to content owners on production of a warrant.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture Media and Sport would not confirm whether or not the Financial Times report was accurate or if the draft it wrote about was genuine or not.