Unlawful file sharing is getting feathers ruffled and has led to Stephen Fry tweeting about it.
Dear Mandy, splendid fellow in many ways, but he is SO WRONG about copyright. Please sign and RT http://is.gd/50gQK #webwar #threestrikesCopy of tweet from Stephen Fry
TalkTalk has also been vocal releasing a statement on Friday in its ongoing campaign. The Digital Economy Bill is far from an easy read but to summarise, no-one will be identified to a rights holder without the requirement for a court order, and secondly it seems the rights holders are expected to take action against the people they choose to pursue in the courts, rather than the default being an Internet disconnect. There are powers that the Secretary of State can use to change this procedure.
This sounds very like the current system, the major difference is the obligation on the ISP to pass on warning letters (which is where mis-identification is possible) and retaining records of who got physical letters from whom. The difference is that when an ISP is required by court order to identify the customer, the rights holder will then have information on many instances of copyright infringement. The mass of information is the key and it means if someone loses a case the fines could be very large (imagine £500 for each track). Assuming that cases of single infringements are not taken to court then random errors and hacking may be less of a concern.
The Digital Economy Bill does allow for technical measures with talk of temporary disconnects, but more as a measure of last resort, and we would presume that if rights holders bend the ear of the Secretary of State, then we may see these measures being forced on providers. The progression is not as simple as the five steps currently outlined by TalkTalk on its site, but these are waiting on an update to reflect the new bill. The provider has started a Number 10 petition, but on reading the petition one can see how a political answer is possible stating that the Bill has measures in place to ensure innocent people are not disconnected.
TalkTalk has published a manifesto making pledges to its
Point 1 is actually part of the bill, and most providers quietly get the court orders and respond to them. Very often the court order is to identify a number of users with an ISP. Of course the bill does not appear to cover a rights holder or law firm acting on their behalf going on a phishing expedition (i.e. asking for many more users details than it needs to help build its own database of people for possible future legal action). On Point 2 there is some 70 days of business before the next General Election must happen, so there is a possibility that if the Digital Economy Bill proves contentious that it may not make it onto the statute books by the General Election. On Point 3, the key point is alleged infringement. As a customer, TalkTalk is not giving customers carte blanche to infringe copyright, simply stating that it wants to see things go through the courts. For those serial infringers, a simple Internet disconnect is likely to be less painful than a large fine from a civil court and the surrounding publicity.
As things stand we have what looks to be an Internet industry lining up against the rights holders ready for a playground face-off, when in reality they should be trying to engage and provide ways for consumers to consume media without infringing copyright. The complete lack of a new definition for fair use fit for a digital age in the Bill is a major disappointment. Broadband has been a game changer in allowing people access to material in a similar way that the ability to record a performance and play it back again which started in the 1870's did. The difference with that technology was that it was not until the 1950's that the 7" single market became large. Broadband has moved at a pace far faster and trying to bend a fast moving beast to fit a mid 20th century model is going to be difficult and maybe impossible. The media industry is making some moves, but invariably the limits restrict what devices you can play material, even when you have notionally purchased it.
The biggest concern among many people will be the backstop powers that lie with the Secretary of State. If these powers become law, the potential for politically motivated action is entirely possible. For example, without the need for any judicial processes providers might be forced to disconnect for one month those who receive 20 notifications in a two year period. Or whole websites/services may be required to be blocked, e.g. if overseas VPN connections are identified as proving popular with serial copyright infringers providers may be forced to block access to any VPN outside the UK.