Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Bradshaw confirms legislation to tackle illegal downloading

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Ben Bradshaw, Culture Secretary, has confirmed in a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference that legislation to tackle illegal downloading would be included in the next Queen’s Speech.

Bradshaw, sharing a platform with Feargal Sharkey, former Undertone and current chief executive of UK Music, directly referred to another possible way of tackling the problem in addition to that of cutting off access – that of restricting the access speeds of file sharers. ‘Squeezing’ the bandwidths of those involved is also the agreed view of UK musicians who last week, in a meeting convened by UK Music, reached a compromise position on the issue after a rather public debate between two camps of them. Capping, or shaping, broadband speeds or data volumes is one possible measure included in the Department of Culture Media and Sport consultation on illegal peer-to-peer file sharing, which closes today, and has the advantage of ensuring that the net access of illegal file sharers continues while addressing the problem of illegal downloading. Back in August, BIS specifically inserted into the consultation the possibility of cutting off access completely, in an intervention regarded as the contribution of man-of-the-moment Lord Mandelson, while France has also recently approved a new law cutting off access on a ‘three strikes’ basis (see further below).

Capping speeds or volumes is clearly not a perfect remedy since legal downloads – e.g. via iPlayer – will also involve high traffic volumes as well as requiring high speeds and allowing continued access to legal downloads might well be a legitimate part of the ‘rehabilitation’ of those found to be sharing files illegally. More prosaically, just how effective speed squeezing might be, given the contention-based problems which affect the network currently, is a fair question and we might well wonder whether anyone thus affected would actually notice that their speeds had been throttled back. Nevertheless, since this is the agreed position of UK Music (although illegal file sharing clearly does not only affect musicians), and given the shared platform between Sharkey and Bradshaw in Brighton this week, this is likely to be the preferred solution which eventually makes its way into the Queen’s Speech.

Its likely effectiveness in dealing with illegal file sharing, which is a problem area given technological advances, is unclear – but potential difficulties in this are evidently not a reason for inaction and it remains right to consider how policy can be shaped to tackle the problem. Copyright exists for a valid reason – well defended by Sharkey recently – and getting people to understand why, in the file sharing age, is an essential activity in ensuring it retains its relevancy.

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Written by Calvin

29/09/2009 at 12:53 pm

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