After the Digital Britain report that was long overdue but still eagerly anticipated, it looks as if we are set to see parts of the report chopped and changed, raising the question why was so much time and money wasted on the production of the report originally.
Today has seen an announcement of 'new ideas' by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for how unlawful peer-to-peer file-sharing can be controlled. The Government news distribution service has more detail and links to related documents for those wanting to read the full detail.
The original Digital Britain plan was for a softly softly education based approach for an initial 12 month period, after which if Ofcom could not show a significant decrease in the amount of illegal file-sharing, technical measures would take effect. It seems that the Government or perhaps just Lord Mandelson has intervened to shorten this time scale, by moving immediately to technical measures.
The proposals are:
It seems that the current idea is that the costs of sending the various written notifications that will still happen are to be split 50:50 between rights holders and Internet Service Providers, which could lead to an interesting backlash. For example if one provider due to the attractiveness of its products finds it is doing a great deal of rights work, it may adjust its products and use incentives to get some customers to move elsewhere. Another big possibility is that unless the new rules apply to all providers we may see consumers moving to for example business providers, or a rise in people having two broadband accounts so when one is suspended they can still leech on a second under a different billing name.
Suspension of an account, even temporarily, is going to be very difficult. In many households the Internet will be used by many people, and cutting someone off could lead to increased costs for banking or worse for people who also work from home.
There was a consultation period already under way, and these new ideas emerging in the middle of that process has meant that the consultation period will be extended to 29th September, but for those who submitted previously they may very well want to change their submission.
Policing the Internet is an almost impossible task. Witness the amount of information that gets out of countries that try and lock it down and one can see how difficult it will be to implement technical measures and the amount of work that will be required to keep things up to date. The consultation and report is already out of date to some extent, as while P2P is massively popular, it largely replaced things like newsgroups, and its likely something will replace current P2P systems and be a lot harder to track and tell what is legal and what is not.
Of course the cynics amongst us will be looking at this desire to move things faster as being part of a desire to get a bill giving Ofcom the necessary powers passed before the next General Election. The question is will the ISP industry be forced down a path, that if a different party comes into power they will suddenly find things changing, and both time and money will have been wasted getting ready for a new set of rules. At the end of the day broadband providers are not charities, and costs to them will get passed onto us as the consumer.
Interestingly most of the coverage of this issue, is about the punitive measures, but we see little or nothing about an end-game from the rights holders, i.e. music and film industry. In other words if they are to cut off the flow of free/affordable content that people obviously like having access to, what will they replace it with? The measures proposed are unlikely to make people buy more content, it may reduce the amount of free stuff out there, but for some artists and films that can result in less revenue from sales due to less buzz amongst the public.
As a final thought, with the ability of the Internet to link groups of disinterested people, will we perhaps see campaigns to boycott labels heavily involved in these plans?