Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Mandelson reveals BIS thinking on illegal file sharing

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Just two days after the French ‘three strikes’ legislation on illegal file sharing passed into law (blogged about below), BIS Secretary Lord Mandelson has revealed that the UK approach will also encompass the possibility of persistent offenders having their internet connections cut off (BIS press release here; video of Mandelson here).

The formal response to the BIS consultation on illegal file sharing, which closed one month ago, is not expected until the publication of the long-awaited Digital Economy Bill, but Mandelson confirmed in his speech, at the C&binet creative industries conference, that proposals on file sharing will be included in it. It’s also fairly clear what they will look like. A careful reading of what is being proposed reveals an essential conservatism in that the cutting of persistent offenders’ net access will be very much a last resort, reserved for the most serial of infringers and accompanied by a clear appeals process, and that the predominant focus will be on reducing the extent of illegal file sharing via warning notifications and targeted legal action by rights holders. When net access plays an increasingly significant part in modern life, and given that net connections are frequently shared between a number of different people, that is clearly the correct approach.

Mandelson is right that ‘we cannot sit back and do nothing’, in the face of music industry evidence that only one in twenty tracks downloaded is done legally (a fact in apparent need of a citation), and (regardless of that) in the face of a growing expectation of a ‘right’ to free music. Mandelson is also right to target the pseudo-commercial aspect of illegal file sharing, confirming that in-family music sharing is acceptable. An approach based on education, enforcement and new business models is clearly the correct one.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that this is an initiative that I very much welcome, overall – but it seems to me that the government and the industry needs to engage in some of the soft stuff as well. By this, I mean a careful campaign focusing on the serious side of what illegal file sharing entails, from the moral perspective of the rights of the copyholder, with a view to changing behaviour over time. A campaign that focuses on the costs to the industry is likely to be far less effective as we are instinctively less sympathetic to the costs to faceless big business. (Or perhaps that’s just me.) And that’s not just because of the film industry’s rather embarrassing ‘knock off Nigel‘ campaign. So I’m particularly interested in Mandelson’s reference to education playing an important role in tackling the issue, and a delay in legislating for the disconnection aspects until April 2011, to give time for the soft stuff to work, is a sensible one.

At the same time, we do need further information on just how illegal downloaders will be spotted, targeted and approached. Such methods need to be open and transparent, and they do need specifically to preclude DPI-based methods of reading our net traffic.

I’d also question whether it is right to rope ISPs into sharing the costs, at any level, of enforcing the interests of rights holders. Numerous analogies could be made here to question the efficacy of holding channel providers partly responsible for the legality of what passes through those channels – I won’t do that but it seems to me intrinsically the wrong approach. It is the responsibility of rights holders to enforce their rights – and, particularly where the co-operation of IPS will be required in this process, not least because – ultimately – they could be losing revenues as a result of enforcement activity, asking the latter to share even a part of the costs of doing so could be counter-productive. At the same time, Talk Talk’s stance seems, to the extent reported by the BBC, to be rather irresponsible (although the content of the site itself seems to be based on good, honest campaigning).

So, two-and-a-half-cheers for Mandelson on this issue, I think.

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Written by Calvin

28/10/2009 at 4:48 pm

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