Anti-Piracy Group Hints at Disclosure “On Demand”

The chief executive of UK anti-piracy FAST says the chances of a completely voluntary agreement between rights holders and ISPs to tackle file-sharing is "unlikely". John Lovelock, boss at the Federation Against Software Theft goes on to imply that what his outfit would really like is file-sharers' names and addresses on demand, with no need for a court order. This would be "gold plating" he said.

FASTAfter joining the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) back in 2002, John Lovelock is the Chief Executive of the anti-piracy group, responsible for lobbying the government for copyright legislative reform, promoting copyright ‘education’ to students and, of course, taking legal action against those who don’t fall into line.

This blend of ‘education’ backed up by legal action has caused controversy for FAST. The outfit is known to track down people who use company Internet connections to share files. FAST then approaches the company with what many consider to be veiled threats of being raided, audited and/or prosecuted. If the company capitulates, FAST introduces the customer to the ‘commercial arm’ of their ‘non-profit’ outfit which goes about aggressively selling software and licenses to ensure the target company ‘complies’. FAST’s approach is not popular, with a lawyer claiming that FAST actually undermines work to protect copyrights. Many companies that have sought legal advice after being contacted by FAST have been advised by their lawyers not to speak with them.

However, FAST is not limiting itself to putting pressure on businesses, it wants to go after individuals too. FAST (or The Federation as it likes to be known), has just responded to the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s (BERR) ‘Consultation on Legislative Options To Address Illicit Peer-to-peer File Sharing‘, which was launched in July 2008. In a nutshell, this consultation was designed to find a way for ISPs and rights holders to reach agreement on what to do about illicit file-sharing, via “3 strikes” or another mechanism.

Of course, this hasn’t been plain sailing for them, since ISPs don’t really want to start harassing their customers at the behest of copyright lobbyists. FAST CEO John Lovelock clearly believes that a voluntary agreement is unlikely: “A voluntary approach would be the easiest solution but experience has shown that such an approach may well not work, as it is dependent on a full consensus being achieved; to date this has not been successful, despite ongoing dialogue between rights holders and ISPs.”

The fact that ISPs don’t want to go after their own customers isn’t lost on Lovelock, who says that government regulation is ‘inevitable’, since this will “take the decision out of the hands of the ISPs themselves.” He also says that he feels that ISPs should not be able to ‘opt-out’ of any scheme, since this would “undermine the entire arrangement”.

Lovelock is calling for “political will” to force ISPs to take action against illicit file-sharing, whilst conveniently skipping over the legal difficulties this would cause. ISPs are not responsible for the actions of their users and time and time again they have refused to become ‘Internet Police’, and quite rightly so. In the meantime, trying to force ISPs to do things against their will, or taking steps to ensure that they are side-stepped in the decision making process, isn’t going to be appreciated.

More worrying is how organizations like FAST feel that somehow they should be able to shortcut, bypass or change the law to suit their needs. “One argument,” said Lovelock, “is that personal data relating to a given IP-address may be given to the rights holder on request, without a court order being needed, which is arguably gold plating.”

Sure, let’s just scrap due process and the Data Protection Act. They just complicate things.

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