Copyright infringement and illegal file sharing are at the top of the headlines again, and it appears to be Lord Mandleson pushing the drive for a tough stance. at a government sponsored forum he has re-iterated plans that would see persistent infringers getting their Internet connection cut-off. BBC News covers the conference including quotes from Peter Mandleson.
The way it would appear that Lord Mandleson is proposing the system would work is two notifications of infringement, and then the connection would be cut off on the third, with a chance to appeal prior to that. The devil will be in the detail of the appeals process, as if you protest that no-one in your household has infringed the copyright of any material but the rights holders have some evidence saying otherwise, who is more believable? Putting this another way, how do you prove you did not do something? For those complaining that this is a reversal of the 'innocent until proven guilty', remember that this only applies to criminal courts; in the civil courts the burden of proof is very different.
As always there is a carrot dangling in front of the stick and that is that we can expect a more relaxed copyright arrangement whereby what almost everyone does now at home will be allowed, i.e. copying a CD to their MP3 player, or sharing it with family members. It begs the question why this change has taken so long to come in since the birth of the MP3 player.
The area that generates the most concern among broadband providers is the costs of the notification and the newly announced appeals process. For the notification at least, the rights holder will pay a flat fee towards the cost of sending this, but it's unlikely that the full costs of the service provider will be covered. No mention has been made as to whether the broadband providers will stand to benefit from any increase of sales for music and video media. It would seem the fair thing to do, as surely the point of enforcing copyright is to increase sales. If all these changes do not increase sales, then the effect on the music and broadband industry will have simply been to increase the costs of doing business.
France has announced its new system for policing the copyright area, and it seems those cut-off in France will still be expected to pay their broadband bill, and one presumes will remain tied to the service so they cannot simply move elsewhere. The new French system (HADOPI 2) does address concerns over disconnections, requiring a judge to sign off on disconnections (albeit through a streamlined process) which can last up to a year. Loss of an Internet connection could be potentially very damaging if it were to be for a period of a month or more, both for individuals, families and businesses. Consumers might find an increased costs of banking and shopping or and inability to work from home, whilst businesses could face worse problems when connections are cut-off due to the actions of an employee.
The creative industries in the UK are worth some £16bn, and employ 2 million people. Those who have worked in other industries in the UK will be asking what makes this industry so special that it needs government backed protection? Many privately run businesses and industries have been allowed to collapse in the face of overseas competition and social changes. The Internet does not stop at the water that surrounds the UK, but spreads worldwide, and it would be wise for the creative industries to remember this. A number one single in the UK will generate a decent amount of money (dependant on how much was spent in promoting it), but it is very often the volume of sales possible in much larger markets abroad that make the money for the big corporates involved.
Copyright infringement does need to be tackled, but one can see dangers in the methods currently under proposal. One of the big computing topics of today, 'cloud computing', might undermine the ability to monitor traffic, with fragments of material being delivered from many locations around the world. Until the Digital Economy Bill goes before the House and is passed through we cannot be sure of what will happen, and with a General Election due by June 2010, no matter which party is elected, if the Bill becomes a hot potato in the campaigning we may see it changed in years to come.