The UK Government, through the BERR, commissioned a public consultation last year into illicit file-sharing, and how to deal with it. The responses should have been published in December, but due to a holdup concerning a freedom of information request, it was delayed until today. Despite this, some will still be kept confidential.
A few months back, we reported on the opening of the Department for Business, Education and Regulatory Reform (BERR) public piracy consultation, and suggested it would be your chance to “get a say”. There has now been some debate about some of the responses, which were requested to be kept confidential. At the start of December, the BERR received a Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request from a journalist, requesting all the consultation responses be made public.
This cuts to the crux of public consultations. Conclusions can only be as good as the data these consultations receive. We have seen many times how companies are willing to lie repeatedly when it comes to P2P, in order to maintain their positions. From Comcast and their ‘Sandvining’, the incorrect accusations of lawyers, MediaDefender and their entire business model, to anti-piracy agencies pushing their unique version of events to get the police to conduct raids. In an area where the people with the money and influence are well known for avoiding the truth on occasion, will the BERR release all documents to allow public scrutiny and thus ensure accuracy?
The answer, in a nutshell, is no. TorrentFreak contacted the BERR and pointed out that confidential submissions are as likely to be marked as such to cover lies and diversions from the truth as confidential business practices, and wondered how this was going to be handled. Also, as the BERR likely doesn’t contain experts that have the depth in knowledge of this subject as our readers, will they be able to spot errors without the public assistance that publishing would bring? Clare Keen at the BERR press office responded saying:
On the issue of standards of evidence, all responses received are considered on their merit. We expect there to be differences in opinions and in information respondents choose to submit in support of their position. However we do not rely solely on such submissions or a single information source when deciding policy. We use a range of sources to enable us to cross check and investigate claims to develop our own understanding and arrive at our own conclusions.
On your second point, in our experience the main reason why a company requests that their response be kept confidential is because their submission has included details of their own commercial business/contracts or operations – information they do not wish their rivals and competitors to have access to.
We would always seek to collaborate or cross-check key points of information. Additionally if a party deliberately provided false information they would risk losing all credibility within Government on future consultations or discussions.
However, it may be a moot point. The Guardian newspaper reported on the consultation saying that a proposal by Ingenious Media was getting serious consideration. The company, a London based consulting and venture capital firm, has reportedly proposed making broadband providers legally liable for copyright infringement by their customers. In return they get a small sum every time a legal download of a song or film happens. Where the money for this will come from, or what will qualify (such as Jamendo or other CC music tracks) for the payment isn’t mentioned. Also not mentioned is how an ISP is supposed to be able to regulate the actions of their customers, without using highly invasive methods, worse than the DPI methods that have already been protested.
The BERR finally published the non-confidential recommendations today, and the BERR has told TorrentFreak that the number of confidential and partially confidential responses were ‘a small number’. In a nutshell, though, the only respondents that wanted a co-regulatory approach, were rights holders. Everyone else expressed no desire for it, and significant concerns were raised over transparency and privacy issues. We’ll have a more detailed look at responses later.