UK to block illegal file sharers – Mandelson

28 Oct 2009

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Britain’s business secretary Lord Mandelson says he is going to soon introduce laws that will tackle the problem of illegal file sharing. At present one in every 20 tracks downloaded in the UK is legal.

Introducing a three-pronged strategy, Lord Mandelson said that new laws in isolation would not be enough to tackle the problem, which costs the creative industries millions of pounds each year.

He called on ISPs and the creative industries to work with Government to ensure a package is put in place which balances education, enforcement and new business models to discourage unlawful downloading.

Digital Economy Bill

Speaking today at the C&binet creative industries conference, Lord Mandelson confirmed proposals set out in the recent consultation on unlawful file-sharing would form the basis of measures in the Digital Economy Bill.

The Government expects that warning notifications, followed up with targeted legal action by rights holders, should be the only enforcement action required to significantly reduce the level of unlawful file-sharing.

However, the Government would have reserve powers to issue an order requiring ISPs to invoke technical measures. Account suspension will be an option available to apply at the last resort for the most serious infringers.

Unlawful downloads

Highlighting the scale of the problem, Lord Mandelson referred to the music industry’s assessment that said only one in every 20 tracks downloaded in the UK is downloaded lawfully.

“It’s clear that whilst unlawful file-sharing excites a strong response from all sides, it is not a victimless act. It is a genuine threat to our creative industries.

“The creative sector has faced challenges to protected formats before. But the threat faced today from online infringement, particularly unlawful file-sharing, is of a different scale altogether. We cannot sit back and do nothing.

“We will put in place a fair, thorough process, involving clear warnings to people suspected of unlawful file-sharing, with technical measures such as account suspension only used as a very last resort.

“Only persistent rule breakers would be affected – and there would be an independent, clear and easy appeals process to ensure that the correct infringer is penalised.”

Education meets innovation

He added that educating consumers in the value of intellectual property rights would help to bring about changes in behaviour – alongside innovation and new business models enabling consumers to download content at competitive prices.

“A ‘legislate and enforce’ approach to beating piracy can only ever be part of the solution. The best long-term solution has to be a market in which those who love music and film, for example, can find a deal that makes acting unlawfully an unnecessary risk.”

In other areas, Lord Mandelson said there was a case for copyright laws to be modernised to reflect reasonable consumer behaviour which did not damage the sustainability of the creative industries.

This would mean that, for example, someone who has bought a CD would be able to copy it to their iPod or share it with family members without acting unlawfully. Such activity is not lawful under the current framework.

Three approaches

Speaking at the C&binet creative industries conference, Lord Mandelson called for a three-pronged approach:

  • Working with ISPs and the creative industries to educate consumers that unlawful file-sharing is not a victimless act and is a genuine threat to the creative industries.
  • The development of commercial models by rights holders in collaboration with Internet Service Providers to offer digital content legitimately, and at the best price for consumers.
  • A thorough notification process, backed by the possibility of imposing technical measures, aimed at those who persistently engage in unlawful file-sharing.

Lord Mandelson also reassured ISPs that they would not be expected to bear the full cost of implementing and delivering the notifications to suspected infringers.

A flat fee per notification will be set, payable by the rights holder, in a way that provides incentive for both rights holders and ISPs to keep the process efficient and cost effective.

The UK Government will publish its response to the consultation on unlawful peer-to-peer file-sharing in parallel with the Digital Economy Bill, in late November.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Lord Mandelson has called on ISPs and the creative industries to work with Government to ensure a package is put in place which balances education, enforcement and new business models to discourage unlawful file downloading.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com