Last month we saw the passing of the Digital Economy Bill, something that was very much hurried through parliament by a retreating government much to the annoyance and irritation of most people aware of its existence due to the generally haphazard manner in which is appears to have been assembled which probably raises more security, privacy and censorship questions than it answers…
This week saw the second step towards this becoming a reality: the media regulator Ofcom released a proposition for a ‘code of practise’ that they were ordered to draw up by the Digital Economy Act, one that involves the UK’s largest ISPs collecting the names and addresses of customers who illegally download TV programmes, films and music via the internet.
This will be in order to send letters to the customers in question warning them of their illicit activity, the threat being that is the customer receives three letters in the space of 12 months then their details will be handed over to the copyright holders so that they can be sued.
Whilst the principle of challenging illegal downloads and punishing the offenders is not one that ISPs are objecting to (although I can’t imagine they relish the idea of more paperwork) one of the country’s biggest – TalkTalk – has been the first to criticise the plans, and in a manner that echo’s the concerns of most customers as well.
TalkTalk’s Four Points Against The Digital Economy Act
Aside from calling the draft a “bureaucratic dog’s breakfast” the TalkTalk statement raised four key issues that they feel (quite rightly) haven’t been properly addressed within this draft: the first of these is that there appears to be no intention for steps to be taken to reduce the risk of customers being incorrectly accused of copyright infringement for whatever reason – something that could ultimately end in them being put onto the so called ‘offenders register’ and possibly taken to court.
The second issue runs on from the first and focuses on the fact that there appears to be very little within the Ofcom draft with regards to how people falsely accused of downloading illegally can make a fair appeal – which given the manner in which this system will work is something that is likely to happen far too often – at least you normally get to go to court and fight your case if accused of crime.
The third issue is centred around the fact the statement points out that the draft code will not apply to mobile operators and smaller ISPs which, as is rightly pointed, is sure to create a market distortion as people look for ways around the regulations, and whilst TalkTalk do have a vested interest as a ‘large’ ISP to ensure this doesn’t happen this kind of loophole really shouldn’t be left open if you wish to implement these kinds of punishments.
The definition of ‘Small ISP’ is one that has under 400,00 customers, a definition that excludes BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media (who have already proposed an illegal-download busting subscription service), Sky Broadband, Orange, O2 and the Post Office and therefore results in this code of practise covering 96% of the market, although of course this could well shrink!
Finally there is the chance that if/when this draft becomes a proper code of practise that it will spark the closure of public Wifi hotspots such as Starbucks and other coffee shops as the owners are charged with the illegal downloads that its users (who may have no affiliation at all with the owners) make – something that we have already seen in the case of a pub landlord being fined.
Other Digital Economy Act Concerns
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group has been another to criticise this draft saying that it will create “considerable confusion” and arguing that causing people worry and fear by giving the impression that they are under constant surveillance is not the way to go, and to be honest you would be hard pushed to disagree with him.
Whilst claims that this kind of regulation would bring us closer to a Chinese-esque censorship level detract from the point they do point towards the issue as to whether or not the internet should be regulated at all for illegal downloads, and if so is this the correct method?
Of course given that the Digital Economy Bill has been passed and the coalition government seems to be making no moves to stop whether or not these steps will be taken is a pointless debate, whether they will be successful is not.
The most obvious problem will be that a significant proportion of the computer and internet literate customers that illegally download will simply bypass the restrictions using the gaping loopholes, and we will see a string of false accusations and punishments before the idea of punishing offenders slowly runs out of momentum and support.
There is the possibility of this working, and Ofcom are accepting responses to the consultation up until the 30th July 2010 with the aim of getting clearance from the European Commission and having the code in place by the 8th January 2011 so no doubt we’ll see the debate on this continuing on for quite some time…what do you think about it all? Is it wrong that it’s got to this point without more detailed debate in Parliament?
Via – Guardian