Page last updated at 11:15 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

EU offers hope to file-sharers

by Nigel Cassidy
Europe Business Reporter

Computer keyboard and CD
New Telecoms Reform Package is less severe on file-sharers

Internet users throughout Europe accused of illegal file-sharing are to receive more protection from being cut off by their service provider.

The European Parliament and Council is due to make a decision on its Telecoms Reform Package in late November.

The package will entitle users in all 27 EU states to be put through a "fair and impartial procedure" before being disconnected.

The outcome is a compromise agreed during all night negotiations.

Some members of the European Parliament felt nobody should lose their connection until after they had been prosecuted in a court for illegally downloading content.

The new rules take the form of an amendment to a much wider revision of all Europe's telecoms regulations.

But they also represent a compromise between those who want greater protection for consumers and those who argue that copyright law is still being flagrantly disregarded by millions of computer users.

So far it is also less than clear exactly what will constitute a "fair and impartial" procedure.

'Sufficiently impartial'

Member states may argue their existing notification and adjudication procedures are sufficiently impartial - and much may depend on how the new rules are implemented.

Monique Goyens, the director general of BEUC, the European Consumers' Organisation, said: "It has been long hard battle but at least all sides have acknowledged that fundamental rights of users need to be guaranteed in the digital world.

It has been long hard battle but at least all sides have acknowledged that fundamental rights of users need to be guaranteed in the digital world.
Monique Goyens, BEUC

"However, these rights will be meaningless if Hadopi-style laws are allowed to be enforced at national level."

The Hadopi law was a controversial bill passed in France earlier this year.

It stated that illegal file-sharers would receive a warning by e-mail, then a letter, and finally cut off their connection for a year if they were caught a third time.

It is named after the organization - Higher Authority for the Distribution of Works and the Protection of Copyright on the Internet - that will police it.

BEUC is calling for a "fundamental re-examination and overall assessment" about what constitutes illegal downloading - and an evaluation of the economic harm to the music and film industry.

One recent study suggested that 72% of people who admit they download illegally also spend the most money buying content legally.

In the UK, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has welcomed the news, a spokesperson told BBC News.

"The telecoms package as a whole is a good deal for the UK," she said.

"The agreed amendment enables the Government to continue with its proposed measures to tackle unlawful peer-to-peer filesharing in the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill."

Speaking at the C&binet Forum last month, Lord Mandelson said that cutting off internet connections would be a "last resort".

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