We’re dismayed by the U-turn on illegal filesharing announced today by Lord Mandelson. Barely two months after the publication of largely sensible and pragmatic measures to tackle the problem (in the Digital Britain Report) Lord Mandelson has, it seems, caved in under pressure from powerful lobbyists in the content industry.
TalkTalk broadly supported proposals outlined in the Digital Britain Report to address illegal filesharing through education, letters to alleged offenders and court-based action against serious offenders.
Introducing measures such as disconnection at the instigation of the Secretary of State will sidestep proper scrutiny, likely breach fundamental human rights and result in innocent people being disconnected or, worse, prosecuted. What’s more, they will not work.
Disconnecting alleged offenders will be futile given that it is relatively easy for determined filesharers to mask their identity or their activity to avoid detection. The evidence that is used to identify offenders is unreliable due to the prevalence of multi-users per account and wifi-hijacking and so will result in innocent customers being cut-off from broadband.
We also believe that these measures will breach fundamental human rights to privacy, data protection and basic freedoms from intrusion and monitoring. If disconnection is carried out in an extra-judicial way alleged offenders will be denied basic legal rights such as right of appeal and the ability to see and interrogate the evidence. This is a view shared by consumer groups.
TalkTalk will strongly resist any attempts to introduce laws that would put obligations on ISPs to act as ‘internet police’ and implement technical measures against their consumers.
Furthermore, obliging ISPs to pay for implementing these measures will impact directly on customers, the majority of whom do not fileshare. Why should the majority of law-abiding broadband users be forced to pay a ‘tax’ to protect the outdated business models of the content industry?
We recognise the importance of persuading people currently engaging in illicit file-sharing to migrate to lawful services, are supportive of the emphasis in the Digital Britain Report for the need for new business models and want to work collaboratively with other players.
However, we are worried that this intrusive approach will prevent cooperative new business models from evolving as ISPs and content providers will be effectively set against each other, and there will be less incentive for rights holders to adapt. This will mean that the underlying problem will perpetuate for much longer and the development of internet services in the UK will be detrimentally affected.
TalkTalk believes that the most effective way to deal with this problem is the process of formal written notifications along with the obligation on ISPs to disclose anonymous data on repeat infringers, education and the development of new business models as suggested in the original Digital Britain Report. This will allow rights-holders to take targeted sanctions with proper judicial protections.