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Government forestalls implementation of file-sharing legislation

The Federation Against Software Theft : 05 February, 2009  (Technical Article)
Interim Digital Britain Report precipitates further consultation delaying the full implementation of legislation against illicit file sharing
The Interim Digital Britain report, issued last week by Lord Carter of Barnes, has clearly stated the Government's intent to use legislation to target illicit file-sharers, according to John Lovelock, Chief Executive of FAST IiS.

The Report also outlined for the first time the Government's intention to create a new Rights Agency to bring together ISPs and content providers to discuss ways to prevent unlawful breaches of copyright law.

"FAST IiS is giving a cautious welcome to the new Rights Agency. We have to be clear that this cannot be solely focused on the music and film industries at the table with ISPs and Government with the software industry left on the sidelines looking in. Any framework moving forward has to include all right's holders and not just the ones which yell loudest," said John Lovelock.

According to John Lovelock: "On a more positive note this report does reinforce the message that any legislative intent will focus on placing obligations on the ISPs to notify infringing subscribers, maintain records and make data about infringers available to rights holders. While this is not as tough as we would want it this is the clearest statement yet from government that it recognises the weaknesses at the heart of the self-regulation argument put forward for so long by the ISPs."

"We have been consistent in our argument for some time now. The ISPs play a vital role in tackling unlawful file-sharing. Without them we would not be able to pursue unlawful activity. We also acknowledge that under Article 12 of the Interim Report the Government is looking at new ways of funding enforcement exploring opportunities with distributors and rights holders over new ways of funding. While we are happy to engage in yet another consultation exercise we are determined to ensure that there is no dilution in our enforcement message as this is crucial to deterrence," he added.

However FAST IiS has raised a serious objection to Action 13 of the Interim Report, which states: 'Our response to the consultation on peer-to-peer file sharing sets out our intention to legislate, requiring ISPs to notify alleged infringers of rights (subject to reasonable levels of proof from rights-holders) that their conduct is unlawful. We also intend to require ISPs to collect anonymised information on serious repeat infringers (derived from their notification activities), to be made available to rights-holders together with personal details on receipt of a court order. We intend to consult on this approach shortly, setting out our proposals in detail.'

John commented: "What has actually moved on here? This tells us nothing that we are not already doing! And in fact in many respects this is a step back - put bluntly what is the point of so-called 'anonymised information'? As if that is not bad enough we are as an industry going to have to go through yet another consultation, the outcome of which will be no different from any of the others we have conducted over the past few years. Can we just get on and set up a legislative framework just as Governments in New Zealand and France have."

Action 11 of the Digital Britain Report clearly states that "By the time the final Digital Britain report is published the Government will have explored with interested parties the potential for a Rights Agency to bring industry together to agree how to provide incentives for legal use of copyright material; work together to prevent unlawful use by consumers which infringes civil copyright now; enable technical copyright-support solutions that work for both consumers and content creators. The Government also welcomes other suggestions on how these objectors should be achieved."

"One thing is clear: you cannot even hope to build a comprehensive enforcement regime if some of the digital rights holders are not included in current thinking. This is not just about film and music; tens of thousands of people work in the software industry in the UK and whilst it is not as glamorous, it makes a substantial contribution to GDP and plays a key role in creating the content for those sectors in the first place!" concluded John.
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