ISP Threatens Legal Action Against UK Over Anti-Piracy Plans

Peter Mandelson confirmed yesterday that illicit file-sharers could have their Internet connections severed as part of the government's aims to reduce piracy by 70% in 2 years. TalkTalk, the UK's second largest ISP, is said to be dismayed at the decision and is now threatening legal action over what it claims is a breach of human rights.

talktalkBack in August the UK government announced tough plans for dealing with online piracy. While the music and movie industries were notably supportive, opposition to the proposals were widespread. Those hoping that politicians might have had second thoughts are disappointed today.

While delaying a final decision until the next parliament, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson yesterday confirmed plans to have UK residents accused of illicit file-sharing disconnected from the Internet as a “last resort”.

Preceded by months of sending warning letters with an aim of achieving a 70% reduction in online piracy by 2011, Mandelson claims that only persistent offenders would be affected by the harshest measures – those accused of infringing copyrights multiple times.

However, downloading a single music track constitutes an infringement, so being accused on the basis of three or four tracks downloaded over a period of months could be enough to have an entire household disconnected from the Internet. Hardly the promised “proportionate” response.

While the Business Secretary is insisting that there will be an independent appeals process to ensure that any accusations are accurate, his words aren’t inspiring confidence with Internet service providers.

Yesterday, BT Group made a statement indicating its concern at the government’s proposals, noting its disappointed that ISPs will have to bear some of the costs of the scheme, resulting in increased prices for broadband customers.

As detailed earlier, those costs are likely to spiral to £365m per annum, putting the alleged music industry piracy “losses” of £200m in the shade.

“We are also interested to hear whether or not customers will have some form of fair legal hearing before their broadband supplier is required to take any action against them,” said BT.

TalkTalk, the UK’s second largest ISP, owner of the Tiscali and AOL brands and operator of the Dont Disconnnect Us website, went much further.

“The approach is based on the principle of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and substitutes proper judicial process for a kangaroo court. What is being proposed is wrong in principle and it won’t work in practice. We know this approach will lead to wrongful accusations,” said Andrew Heaney, TalkTalk’s Executive Director of Strategy and Regulation.

According to a report this morning, TalkTalk is now threatening to launch legal action if Mandelson makes good on his threats and implements any disconnection scheme without due process.

“If the government moves to stage two we would consider that extra-judicial technical measures and would look to appeal the decision because it infringes human rights,” Heaney told The Guardian. “TalkTalk will continue to resist any attempts to make it impose technical measures on its customers unless directed to do so by a court or recognised tribunal.”

One pressing issue that seems to have been completely ignored is the existence of current copyright laws which are already being used to punish alleged file-sharers in the UK.

Companies like ACS:Law are already making accusations against UK Internet users who they claim are infringing the rights of their clients, demanding £600+ for the alleged infringement of a single music track.

Are we to have a dual system where Internet users can be both disconnected by the government and financially punished by private companies for the same offenses? The government should decide which system is to prevail and pick one, changing the law if necessary.

The full proposals for the graduated response scheme will be detailed in the Digital Economy Bill, set to be published later on this year.

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