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Europe mulls file-sharing plans

23 October 09 11:10 GMT

The European Parliament is hammering out a final agreement on how member states should deal with file-sharing.

It has watered down its original amendment to the Telecoms Package which stated that member states could not cut off net pirates without court authority.

A number of European countries are considering tough anti-piracy laws.

The French government has just approved plans which could see pirates removed from the net for up to a year.

The UK's file-sharing policy is also likely to include a clause about disconnecting persistent offenders.

The new proposal reads: "Any such measures liable to restrict those fundamental rights or freedoms may only be taken in exceptional circumstances...and shall be subject to adequate procedural safeguards in conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights.. including effective judicial protection and due process."

It stops short of demanding a court ruling on the matter.

Members of the European Parliament have until the end of the year to agree to the draft proposal.

Persistent problem

There has been much debate around Europe as to whether internet access is a fundamental right.

The European Parliament has already adopted a provision stating that internet access is "critical for the practical exercise of a wide array of fundamental rights".

UK prime minister Gordon Brown has said that people are as entitled to internet access as to gas, water and electricity.

At the same time Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has moved to toughen up anti-piracy legislation to include the ability to remove persistent file-sharers from the net.

According to figures from analyst firm Forrester, 14% of European internet users engage in illegal file-sharing.

Legislation may not be the answer, thinks Forrester analyst Mark Mulligan.

"Piracy will not be solved by legislation alone. Without compelling services piracy will not be beaten," he said.

There have been a flurry of announcements about legitimate services in recent months, including Sky's SkyTunes service and tie-ups between the likes of internet service provider CarphoneWarehouse and music service Napster.

New methods

Peer-to-peer networks are likely to be the main targets of any anti-piracy legislation.

At network level, internet service providers are able, if asked, to identify the particular machines from which music or other content is being illegally downloaded.

But non-network piracy methods, including using instant messaging, e-mail, music blogs, bluetooth and iPod ripping, are on the rise.

It is likely that legislation will be too slow to catch pirates, thinks Mr Mulligan.

"Technology just moves quicker. Already we are seeing around 20 different alternatives to peer-to-peer piracy," he said.

This week France's constitutional court approved its revised anti-piracy plans.

The proposed legislation operates under a "three strikes" system. A new state agency would first send illegal file-sharers a warning e-mail, then a letter and finally cut off their connection if they were caught a third time.

Under the revised law, a judge must rule on the issue of whether to disconnect users.

The UK's policy on file-sharing is due to be revealed next month.

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