Page last updated at 18:04 GMT, Tuesday, 25 August 2009 19:04 UK

Anger at UK file-sharing policy

Rupert Goodwins, technology expert and editor of ZD Net in the BBC studio

Internet service providers (ISPs) have reacted with anger to new proposals on how to tackle internet piracy.

The government is proposing a tougher stance which would include cutting off repeat offenders from the net.

UK ISP Talk Talk said the recommendations were likely to "breach fundamental rights" and would not work.

Virgin said that "persuasion not coercion" was key in the fight to crack down on the estimated six million file-sharers in the UK.

TalkTalk's director of regulation Andrew Heaney told the BBC News the ISP was as keen as anyone to clamp down on illegal file-sharers.

"This is best done by making sure there are legal alternatives and educating people, writing letters to alleged file-sharers and, if necessary, taking them to court."

If Lord Mandelson really 'doesn't get the internet', you can be sure that there will be plenty of people now offering to educate him

But introducing measures to simply cut people off will not work, he said.

"Disconnecting alleged offenders will be futile given that it is relatively easy for determined file-sharers to mask their identity or their activity to avoid detection," he added.

There are also concerns that the method of identifying offenders using the IP address of a specific machine may punish those who share a web connection.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Media was concerned that a "heavy-handed, punitive regime will simply alienate consumers".


Politicians on all sides have been split by the proposal.

Speaking on Radio 4's PM programme, the former Cabinet Secretary, Tom Watson MP, said that Lord Mandelson had reached "the wrong conclusion".

File-sharing is not illegal. It only becomes illegal when users are sharing content, such as music, that is protected by copyrights
The crackdown will be aimed at people who regularly use technologies, such as BitTorrent, and websites, such as The Pirate Bay, to find and download files
There are plenty of legitimate services which use file-sharing technology such as some on-demand TV services

Don Foster MP, the Liberal Democrat's culture and media spokesman, told BBC News that Lord Mandelson's move was "reckless and dangerous".

"There are many families whose children, unbeknown to them, might be illegally downloading but now their own access could be put in jeopardy by Lord Mandelson's proposals."

Mr Foster acknowledged that online piracy was "a major problem in the UK" but said overriding the opinions of Lord Carter and two secretaries of state was "bizarre".

The Conservative MP John Whittingdale, who is also chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said he was broadly supportive of Lord Mandelson's proposals, but said that he may have inadvertently "killed his own bill".

"Personally I am on his [Lord Mandelson's] side; peer-to-peer sharing is the greatest threat to our creative industries," he said.

"I don't think people should have their broadband cut off, but there are measures to restrict speed which is better than prosecuting people so they get a criminal record.

"That said, I have severe doubts that the government can get this bill through in the time available as if there is any opposition to it - and there will be now - there will be a general election before it goes through."

Listening carefully

Originally the Digital Britain report, published in June, gave Ofcom until 2012 to consider whether technical measures to catch pirates were necessary.


However, according to a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) released on Tuesday, that timeframe is now considered "too long to wait".

Stephen Timms, minister for Digital Britain, said: "We've been listening carefully to responses to the consultation this far, and it's become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders."

It proposes that internet service providers (ISPs) are obliged to take action against repeat infringers and suggests that the cost of tracking down persistent pirates be shared 50:50 between ISPs and rights holders.

By all means fine those who download illegally, but to cut them off from the internet would be taking away the right to free speech and communication
Janet Shaw, Romford, UK

The proposal has been welcomed by the BPI, which represents the recorded music industry in Britain.

"'Digital piracy is a serious problem and a real threat to the UK's creative industries," it said in a statement.

"Today is a step forward that should help the legal digital market to grow for consumers."

BIS denied that it had changed its position since the publication of Digital Britain and said that the recommendations were open to consultation.

"We are simply adding new ideas to the table that could potentially make the whole system more flexible and provide a quicker way to bring in technical measures," it said in a statement.

It is estimated that half of all the traffic on the net in the UK is content that is shared illegally.

The UK government has set a target of reducing the problem by at least 70%.

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