Norway Mulls Anti-Piracy ‘Complaint Board’ Proposal

Anti-piracy organizations send out thousands of infringement notices a year to alleged pirates. Strangely enough, these infringement notices are hardly ever backed up by solid evidence. The Norwegian Consumer Council is now proposing to create an independent committee to deal with copyright infringement disputes between alleged pirates and rights holders.

Similar to other consumer rights organizations, the Norway Consumer Council (Forbrukerrådet) is dedicated to representing the interests of consumers, operating independently of the commercial interests of others. It aims to influence business, at the same time as educating and providing help to consumers, and has been vocal in its opposition of iTunes DRM.

Back in March this year, the Council (NCC) entered the file-sharing debate, when it advised members of the public not to comply with the demands of a Norwegian law firm. The law firm, Simonsen, had sent out letters to ISPs demanding that alleged pirates sign legal agreements accepting that they had shared files, and promising never to do it again. The NCC legal officer, Hans Marius Graasvold, said that the signing of such a letter (which is very similar indeed to the letters sent out by UK lawyers Davenport Lyons) makes the consumer liable for all past and future acts of file-sharing in his household, and should be avoided at all costs. This intervention by NCC led to the Norwegian ISP association advising their members not to pass on the lawyers letters.

NCC is also opposed to any “3 strikes” type legislation, calling it a “grossly disproportionate” response, with Hans Marius Graasvold stating that consumers facing such allegations are deprived of due process and their right to privacy. Internet access should be provided by an ISP on “neutral terms” with “legal protection against arbitrary termination of the contract.”

Presumably trying to find some middle-ground in this file-sharing debate, which includes the sticky issues of citizen’s rights, due process and privacy, the NCC has started discussions with representatives of the copyright industry and ISPs, with a view to the creation of an independent committee empowered to act in cases of alleged copyright infringement. Major Norwegian ISPs have apparently welcomed the initiative.

The proposals suggest that such a committee should be run by a public authority, and act as a mechanism for alternative dispute resolution and in other cases, a complaint board. When an alleged pirate is approached with allegations by a copyright holder, the consumer would then have the opportunity to send the complaint to the committee for its consideration, with any decision subject to appeal.

The NCC hopes to put its proposals to the Norwegian government by mid 2009.

Ofcom, the UK’s independent regulator for the communications industry has also indicated that it could get involved in the file-sharing debate, in trying to find an alternative to the doomed “3 strikes” proposals, although it hasn’t suggested that it would offer any arbitration services.

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