UK ISPs to Become Piracy Cops

UK communications minister Lord Carter has drafted new regulations that will require ISPs to warn customers suspected of sharing copyrighted material, that they are acting illegally. Furthermore, ISPs will have to hand over details of repeated infringers to the entertainment industry and other rights holders.

These two measures are at the core of the government’s new anti-piracy plan for the Internet. According to a report from the Financial Times, Carter’s draft will further call for a new ‘Rights Agency’ to be overlooked by Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. The agency will be financed by both ISPs and rights holders, and will assist in maintaining the new regulations.

If the new plans are passed, ISPs will effectively be forced to play copyright cops by spying on the download behavior of their customers. Moreover, copyright lawyers will be busy for the years to come, as thousands of people could potentially end up in court, even some who have never touched a P2P client.

Last year, the Department for Business, Education and Regulatory Reform (BERR) asked copyright holders, ISPs and the public to give suggestions how to handle online piracy. The results of the consultation, published yesterday, were polarized. The ISPs and the public indicated that they were fine with how things are now, but the copyright holders disagreed.

Most copyright holders, including the music and movie industry representatives, have called for regulation that would require ISPs to monitor their networks and filter out copyrighted traffic. According to the details currently available, a filter is not mandatory in the most recent plans, but monitoring is.

The proposal is clearly another step in the wrong direction. There are several privacy concerns that will be raised when the plans go into effect. And as we’ve reported before, tracking down copyright infringers is not an exact science, and the current techniques lead to an unacceptable number of false accusations.

Recently, the BBC consumer show Watchdog revealed how easily innocent people can be accused of piracy, sometimes with disastrous financial consequences. The new regulation seems to be a compromise between the opposing viewpoints of ISPs and copyright holders, with only one major loser – the people.

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