In a letter to The Times, Ian Livingston of BT, Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse and Tom Alexander of Orange have criticised government plans set out by Lord Mandelson to disconnect users who illegally share files online. They reject the idea that ISPs and blameless consumers should bear the brunt of the cost of another industry's fight against piracy.
"Sir, We agree that the creative industries play an important role in the UK and understand the challenge that illegal filesharing presents (letter, Sept 1). We do not condone or encourage such activity, but we are concerned that the Government’s latest proposals on the “how” to reduce illegal filesharing are misconceived and threaten broadband consumers’ rights and the development of new attractive services. Experience in other countries suggests that pursuing such an approach can result in significant consumer resistance. Any new policy must be considered very carefully.
Any decision to move to harsh and punitive measures such as disconnection must be genuinely underpinned by rigorous and objective assessment by Ofcom. Consumers must be presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. We must avoid an extrajudicial “kangaroo court” process where evidence is not tested properly and accused broadband users are denied the right to defend themselves against false accusations. Without these protections innocent customers will suffer. Any penalty must be proportionate. Disconnecting users from the internet would place serious limits on their freedom of expression. Usually, constraints to freedom of expression are imposed only as the result of custodial sentences, or incitement to racial hatred, or libel. The proposal that internet service providers — and by implication broadband customers — should pay most of the cost of these measures to support the creative industries is grossly unfair since the vast majority of consumers do not fileshare illegally. Further, this payment approach would discourage content industries from developing new services.
We hope that the Government will consider genuinely consumers’ rights in its endeavours to protect the creative industries.
Charles Dunstone, talktalk
Ian Livingston, BT
Jim Killock, Open Rights Group
Ed Mayo, Consumer Focus
Deborah Prince, Which?
Tom Alexander, Orange UKLetter to The Times
The Department for Business last week put forward plans to get tough on illegal file sharing that had previously been ruled out in the Digital Britain report. Musicians, songwriters and producers are also fiercely against Mandelson's plans, with a coalition of bodies representing artists including Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Elton John attacking the proposals as expensive and illogical.
"We vehemently oppose the proposals being made and suggest that the stick is now in danger of being way out of proportion to the carrot. The failure of 30,000 US lawsuits against consumers and the cessation of the pursuit of that policy should be demonstration enough that this is not a policy that any future-minded UK government should pursue."Statement from coalition of bodies representing artists
Similar proposals to disconnect users were put forward in France, but the law there was rejected as it undermined the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" and was also deemed a disproportionate infringement of the right to freedom of expression. Today's letter from three of the largest broadband providers in the UK echos these concerns and we hope that the UK government will take heed of this and listen to the industry and consumers affected.