The Times today is reporting that ‘[p]arents whose children download music and films illegally will be blacklisted and have their internet access curbed under government reforms to fight online piracy’. According to the report:
The measures, the first of their kind in the world, will be announced today by Baroness Vadera, who brokered the deal between internet service providers and Ofcom, the telecoms body…Britainâ€™s six biggest service providers – BT, Virgin Media, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse – have signed up to the scheme. In return, the Government has abandoned a controversial proposal to disconnect broadband services for users who had been caught out three times.
The scheme will, apparently, involve:
- warning letters
- sanctions – including â€œtraffic managementâ€, meaning a sudden curtailment of their internet speeds, and â€œtraffic filteringâ€, a careful monitoring of the media files downloaded to an account to check whether they have paid for them.
The scheme does not, apparently, involve the passing on of personal information – BPI and copyright holders will not be given names.
I’m not sure what to think about that – on the one hand, it does get rid of some of the nastier aspects of some of the proposals that have been floating around (like termination of internet service, blacklisting and people being cut off for 12 months). On the other hand, and subject to seeing the details, it does seem to have all the problems of identifying the culprit, collective punishment, transgression of the presumption of innocence, and the imposition of sanctions without court review (see my previous comments here). It also doesn’t appear to be compulsory (in that not all the ISPs have ‘signed up’). Will await details with interest.
On further thought, I’m less and less comfortable with this. Maybe it’s those words – ‘management’, and ‘filtering’. We are, in effect, talking about the ‘management’ – and curtailing – of a fundamentally important communications medium, for the benefit of a particular industry, and with all the dangers that follow of doing exactly the same thing for other industries and interests. All to be done, it would appear, outside any finding by an independent, disinterested tribunal or court that there has in fact been mass infringement of a kind that would justify such a sanction. Yeah, my gut reaction is I don’t like it. In the end, there are important principles at stake here and they appear to be negotiated away by this deal. And I don’t think this is an end to it. But that’s just my view.