The Times is reporting this morning that a green paper due to be published next week could see ISPs forced to disconnect users found to be downloading illegally obtained music or movies. The paper has been circulated among key stakeholders for comment but it appears it has been leaked in advance of publication. If this paper was to become law as it stands, Internet users would face disconnection on a 'three strikes' rule. The green paper is not available for download as yet, but snippets along with comments can be read over at The Times.
Under the proposals, the first strike would be an e-mail warning from the ISP with the second strike resulting in suspension and finally termination of contract on the third strike. This produces interesting problems for ISPs both due to minimum contract lengths as well as the costs of disconnection. With the increasing availability of 24-month contracts bundled with laptops or games consoles, the ISP is presented with a huge risk if it is required to disconnect a user.
It is said that the illegal downloading of copyrighted material such as music and films costs the media industry millions, but policing any scheme to reduce this is not going to be cheap. Additionally by terminating peoples internet access it may further alienate consumers.
The biggest area of contention is likely to be any appeals process, since perfectly innocent users may have had their wireless network hijacked and this is possible even if they had secured it if, for example, you use an easy to guess pass phrase on your wireless encryption. Of course this could also be put up as a defence even if it was not the case. Also, what happens if someone is duped into downloading copyrighted material and does not realise the breach until they have viewed it? For example an upstart producer may release a film into the public domain entitled 'my first work' but someone may re-title 'Superman VI' in an effort to hide it and people thus download the wrong thing unintentionally?
In theory by going out to consultation all these sorts of concerns should be addressed, but there is likely to be concern from the average Internet users that only the concerns of big industry are going to be listened to.
Perhaps the media industry needs to look at why people download the content and address this. Are people viewing it because its available in some countries months before retail sale in the UK or appearing on UK TV channels? Or is the pricing too high? Are the existing downloads available legally too restrictive, in that the digital rights management makes it hard or impossible for people to copy it from a home PC to a mobile device?
"Entanet are concerned that the costs of providing the government with what it requires will increase the costs of DSL. Part of our input into the collaborative effort with ISPA/MPA has been to ask for cost recovery like RIPA."James Blessing, Entanet
Years ago the various peer-to-peer (p2p) networks were not encrypted and fairly easy to monitor, but the advent of traffic controls meant many p2p services started to offer encryption. Legislation may just move the problem on and re-appear camouflaged in such a way that providers cannot see it. Banning p2p download systems outright would not help and would also remove a growing medium for distributing legal content.
So, why are the content publishers taking this track?
"The record and movie industries have received quite a lot of negative press recently in taking direct action against end users. Taking parents to court when their teenage children have downloaded some films online doesn't help their reputation. By seeking to make the broadband service providers responsible for disconnecting their users, they shift the perceived blame away from them.
In today's world, access to the Internet is becoming a necessity. The government is pushing for tax returns to be filed online. Students are using the Internet for research and learning. Home automation and security devices can increasingly be controlled and monitored via the Internet. Users of Voice over IP or 'broadband phone' services could find their telephones don't work--That could cost an extra few seconds when they are making an emergency call."Sebastien Lahtinen, thinkbroadband.com
This raises serious concerns over what happens when mistakes are made? Will the record industry agree to underwrite all financial losses individuals incur if they are falsely accused and/or disconnected under such a policy? In today's world of unified communications, the prospects of disconnecting someone are quite serious as the Internet has become such a central part in today's society.
It is also unclear whether there would be a central database of disconnected users, since without this it would be easy to just order a new broadband connection from another service provider.