Page last updated at 09:05 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 10:05 UK

Call to 'disconnect file-sharers'

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

Persistent illegal file-sharers should be cut off from the net, an alliance of UK creative industries will tell the government later.

The alliance wants the government to force internet service providers (ISPs) to disconnect users who ignore repeated warnings about sharing illegal content.

John Woodward, head of the UK Film Council, said illegal file-sharing was hurting film-making and risking jobs.

The coalition says more than 50% of net traffic in the UK is illegal content.

Mr Woodward said: "The growing threat of illegal P2P (peer to peer) file-sharing threatens [the creative industries], as films go unmade, DVD sales deteriorate and jobs are lost in production and distribution of content."

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?

Nine creative bodies and five trade unions have signed a joint statement asking the government to force ISPs into banning users caught sharing illegally. It marks a significant hardening of their stance on the role of ISPs, which in the past has focused on education and awareness.

The creative industries, including the British Phonographic Industry and the Federation Against Copyright Theft, have issued a set of "urgent recommendations" that they want to be included in the government's Digital Britain manifesto.

They argue that many jobs in the 800,000-strong sectors of film, TV, music, and software are threatened by illegal file-sharing.

However, the Internet Services Providers' Association (Ispa) - a trade body that represents ISP's - said that users could challenge disconnections through the courts and, at present, the technology available for monitoring and detecting illegal sharers was not of a standard "where they would be admissible as evidence in court".

Instead, Ispa said that rights holders needed to rewrite their licensing agreements, to take account of "new models of online content distribution".

In a statement, Ispa's secretary general, Nicholas Lansman, said: "Ispa recognises that there is a problem with unlawful P2P file sharing, but it is important to recognise that a major part of the solution lies in licensing reform and the availability of legal content online."

Last year, the UK government told ISPs to take concrete steps to curb illegal downloads or face legal sanctions, but shied away from legislation that would force ISPs to ban repeat offenders.

No-one from the Internet Service Providers Association was available for comment on the alliance's statement.

Content gatekeepers

Earlier this year, the UK's Intellectual Property minister, David Lammy, said: "We can't have a system where we're talking about arresting teenagers in their bedrooms."

The government has set a target of reducing illegal file-sharing by 70 to 80% within two to three years.

ISPs have long resisted becoming "gatekeepers of content" and have pointed out that any change to their role would require a change in UK legislation, which currently classifies them as mere "conduits" of data.

Hand putting CD into computer
More than a billion songs were shared illegally online in 2007

Last year, some of the UK's biggest internet providers signed up to a voluntary scheme that saw letters sent out to thousands of users suspected of illegally sharing music.

The European Union has also signalled its interest in the debate, with MEPs saying users need to have better protection from being disconnected. MEPs stressed the need for a ruling from a court before a user's connection was cut.

The alliance warned that illegal file-sharing could have a devastating impact on creativity and the British economy, if it goes unchecked.

Secure delivery

In an "unprecedented joint statement", the alliance predicted a "lawless free-for-all" unless the government ensured the "safe and secure delivery of legal content".

It reports that in 2007 an estimated 98 million illegal downloads of films and more than a billion illegal downloads of music tracks took place in the UK. It says more than six million people in the country regularly file-share copyright content without permission.

The previous tactic of pursuing individual file-sharers in the courts appear to have been abandoned.

"Suggestions for rights-owners to take many thousands of legal actions seeking damages against individual file-sharers in court are neither practicable nor proportionate and would create a drain on public resources," the joint statement reads.

The statement stops short of calling on the government to introduce legislation with detailed technical measures to prevent illegal file-sharing.

"Instead, [the government] should provide enabling legislation, for the specific measures to be identified and implemented in an Industry Code of Practice," it recommends.



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