Page last updated at 10:11 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Internet service providers urge changes to digital bill

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter, BBC News

ISPA website screengrab
ISPA is angry over government plans to disconnect net users

Peers are being urged to make substantive changes to government plans to tackle illegal file-sharing by ISPs.

At a heated debate in London, members of the Internet Service Providers' Association (Ispa) heard from the government and music body the BPI.

The head of Ispa said members were not convinced that their proposals, which include disconnecting persistent offenders, would tackle the problem.

He called for licensing changes to make it easier to offer legal alternatives.

"It is all very well beating consumers over the head with a stick but they need to be offered a carrot as well," said Ispa's secretary general Nicholas Lansman.

'Letter campaign'

The plans for tackling illegal file-sharing, included in the government's Digital Economy Bill, will be a two-stage process.

Initially, the government will aim to educate consumers, and those identified as downloading illegal content will be sent letters.

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If this proves insufficient, technical measures which will include the powers to disconnect persistent pirates, will be introduced in the spring of 2011.

Ispa has always made the point that net providers are "mere conduits" of content and that it is not their role to police the networks.

In its objection to the bill last month it said that forcing the "disconnection of users contrary to many of the aims of Digital Britain".

It also said that rights holders "should shoulder the burden for all costs, including the reimbursement of ISP's costs".

"ISPs are being asked to police content but this isn't about serious crime but to protect one particular set of rights holders," said Mr Lansman.

Currently the government thinks rights holders and ISPs should share the cost.

Ispa has also called for significant reform of the way net providers obtain licences from right holders.

"The fact that rights holders can lean on the legislation means there isn't the incentive for them to do anything else in terms of alternatives," said Malcolm Hutty, from net association Linx.

The process of educating consumers about illegal file-sharing has already begun.

In July last year, six of the UK's biggest net providers agreed a plan to tackle online piracy.

It involved sending out letters to those identified as illegal file-sharers.

BT, Virgin, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse all signed up.

According to Mr Lansman "tens of thousands" of letters were sent during the trial but he has not heard whether the campaign was successful.

"What happened? Did the government see a huge drop in file-sharing? The Digital Economy Bill says we should do the same thing again so I presume that there is some analysis of the trial," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the letters had been sent out because of an industry "memorandum of understanding" (MoU).

"The decision not to release a report was down to the industry signatories. The MoU, and the separate wide ranging consultation with stakeholders who have an interest in filesharing, were both used to inform the development of the Digital Economy Bill."

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