Page last updated at 12:32 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 13:32 UK

Net firms reject 'policing role'

By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

Eye and circuit board
ISPs could soon be asked to monitor the online activities of their users

Internet service providers (ISPs) have rejected calls for them to police the net and cut off users who repeatedly file-share material unlawfully.

The umbrella group that represents ISPs said disconnecting users would be a "disproportionate response".

A coalition of UK creative industries wants the online connections of repeat offenders to be slowed or stopped.

The government has said it is looking at "penalties" for illegal file-sharers in its Digital Britain report.

In a statement, the Internet Service Providers Association (Ispa) said it disputed "calls from some elements of the creative industries for the disconnection of users or technological measures as a method of dealing with potential infringers of copyright online".

A graduated response which leads to pain for persistent piracy is the only viable option
John Woodward, UK Film Council

It added: "Ispa members have consistently explained that significant technological advances would be required if these measures are to reach a standard where they would be admissible as evidence in court.

"ISPs and consumer groups consider disconnection of users to be a disproportionate response, a view that was recently supported by the European Parliament."

Force ISPs

The coalition of music, film and TV and publishers, as well as entertainment trade unions, have issued a joint statement, in which it calls on the government to force ISPs into taking action against file-sharers.

Without question, piracy threatens jobs, but have the creative industries been a bit loose with their maths and language in order to strike an emotive point?

John Woodward, chief executive of the UK Film Council, said ISPs had to "put on a deputy's badge".

"You can send out all the cease and desist e-mails in the world, but ultimately if there isn't any sanction with some sort of threat of disrupted broadband, then the threats are empty and will be ignored."

He added: "A graduated response which leads to pain for persistent piracy is the only viable option."

However, Barbara Follett MP, minister for the creative industries, told a conference of industry executives in London that the government was favouring a system of warning letters to offenders with the threat of legal action, rather than disconnection.

She said the government was a "little nervous" of taking steps that would see users' connections slowed or stopped altogether.

Rights holders

While not ruling out any particular sanction, she said: "We are going to build on the memorandum of understanding set up last year between government, ISPs and rights holders.

A letter threatening another letter is simply not good enough
Simon Juden, Publishers Association

"We propose a requirement for ISPs to notify their customers that are engaging in unlawful file-sharing and notify them in such a way that any further action would have consequences.

"The consequences we propose are legal action; I know some people feel that is not sufficient."

She said the detail of the types of legal action to be taken would be included in next month's Digital Britain report.

She said that ministers were looking closely at events in France where the government is trying to introduce a "three strikes and out" policy for unlawful file-sharing.

Legal action

However, many in the creative industry are concerned that the onus to take legal action against "pirates" will fall on them, and not on the ISPs.

Simon Juden, chief executive of the Publishers' Association, said: "A letter threatening another letter is simply not good enough."

Ispa has also called on the creative industries to simplify and improve the licensing that is needed for firms to offer legal alternatives to file-sharing unlawfully.

"Ispa is disappointed that the creative industries continue to advocate legislation on enforcement without considering how the complicated licensing processes that many stakeholders believe are at the root of the problem can be reformed," the umbrella group said.

Mr Woodward agreed the film industry had to introduce radical new business models if it were to succeed in the digital age and needed to work with ISPs to become partners in distributing content.

"There needs to be a better relationship between content providers, ISPS and consumers."

He said that ISPs might be willing to consider a graduated response to tackling piracy if content providers were willing to pay distribution fees to ISPs.

"ISPs would be incentivised to tackle piracy," he said.

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