Families face having their internet cut off after laws to curb ‘piracy’ are upheld in court
(DAILY MAIL) Families who illegally download movies, music or books will appear on a blacklist and might – in future – have their internet services cut off.
The tough new regime, which is included in the Digital Economy Act, was upheld by the Court of Appeal today after judges threw out a legal challenge.
Major movie, music or publishing company will be able to require an internet service provider to blacklist customers who illegally download or upload copyright material.
Initially, this means they will be sent letters highlighting that they have been identified as pirates and requiring them to provide details of all the material involved.
The measure is designed to act as a warning shot and encourage those involved to stop illegal downloads.
However, the Act includes a provision that could, in future, see the guilty punished by having their internet service cut off.
Q&A: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Q: What problem is the Government seeking to tackle?
A: The aim is to crack down on online copyright infringement through illegal peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing. The creative industries estimate the practice is costing them some £400 million a year, especially with regard to films, music and books. P2P file-sharing, as it is also known, involves users connecting to a network through which they can access shared files on the computers of others.
Q: What is the Government trying to do to combat this?
A: The Coalition is working on implementing a measure introduced under Labour’s Digital Economy Act 2010 for creating a mass notification system. As part of this, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be called on to contribute towards the cost of writing a warning letter to anyone suspected of infringing copyright online. Copyright holders will foot 75% of the bill, while ISPs will be expected to pay 25% of it.
Q: Why did BT and TalkTalk object to this?
A: They claimed the proposed measures were incompatible with EU law, would result in an invasion of privacy and run up disproportionate costs for ISPs and consumers.
Q: What have the courts said about it?
A: Last year the High Court ruled in favour of the Government in a judicial review of the measures. Mr Justice Kenneth Parker upheld the principle of taking measures to tackle the unlawful downloading of music, films, books and other copyright material. Today, three Court of Appeal judges rejected the ISPs’ appeal against the ruling.
People who feel they have been unfairly identified as computer pirates will have to pay £20 to mount an appeal.
The chief executive of the official customer body, Consumer Focus, Mike O’ Connor, said it is important the broadcast and internet regulator Ofcom ensures the public are treated fairly.
There are concerns that innocent families could branded as pirates if their wi-fi system is hijacked for illegal downloads by a stranger.
Mr O’Connor said: ‘As it implements the Act, Ofcom must require a high standard of evidence from copyright owners to prevent innocent consumers being placed on a copyright infringement list.
‘Consumers paying for the household’s internet connection may be innocent of any wrongdoing but will find it very difficult to prove this in homes with multiple internet users.’
He added: ‘The Government should reconsider its decision to impose a £20 fee for anyone who wants to appeal a notification of alleged copyright infringement.
‘There are many people for whom £20 would be enough of a dent in their daily budget to make them forego their right to an appeal.’
The Digital Economy Act includes provisions that could, in future, be used to punish families through either a temporary suspension of their internet connection, or by slowing it down.
This penalty regime cannot be introduced until at least one year after the new warning letters and blacklist scheme has been in operation.
There would have to be a review by Ofcom, including public consultation, followed by secondary legislation that would have to be passed by Parliament.
The legal challenge to the new regime was taken by BT and TalkTalk, who are two of the country’s biggest internet service providers(ISPs) and argue it is incompatible with European law.
However, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the government and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which argued the new rules contain sufficient safeguards to protect the rights of consumers and ISPs.
The decision was welcomed by the creative industries, who say copyright infringement – online piracy – is costing them £400 million a year.
General secretary of the actors’ union Equity, Christine Payne, said: ‘Once again the court is on the side of the almost two million workers in the creative industries whose livelihoods are put at risk because creative content is stolen on a daily basis.’
Lord Puttnam, president of the Film Distributors’ Association, said: ‘Hopefully this brings to an end a long chapter of uncertainty, and the Act can now help in implementing a mass consumer education programme so that people, especially young people, can come to appreciate the damage piracy inflicts on the whole of the creative community.’
However, the legal battle may not be over. TalkTalk said it would ‘continue to fight this ill-judged legislation’, while BT said will take time to decide its next steps.
The Culture department (DCMS) denied that putting people on a copyright infringement list equates to putting them on a blacklist. It also denied that people who receive the letters will be required to identify what they have downloaded.
A spokesman said: ‘The account holder will be offered advice on how to ensure their internet connection is not used for downloading copyright infringing material in the future as well as advice about legitimate sources of digital content. The mass notification system aims to inform and educate. It is not part of a formal legal process and it does not involve any measures that impact on the subscriber’s internet account.
‘There would need to be secondary legislation before the introductions of any technical sanctions such as throttling or suspension.’