Can the governments latest initiative really stop illegal file-sharing across networks?
Back on the 12th of February The Times reported on a leaked ‘Green Paper' suggesting that Internet users suspected of downloading films or music will be penalised by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who would be legally obliged to take action against them. A "three-strike" system would mean that users suspected of accessing pirate material receive a warning by e-mail; if they continued to access illegal content then a second warning would be given—possibly in the form of a temporary suspension. If a user is caught a third time, they would be banned by the ISP and have their Internet connection completely cut off! With over six million Internet users in the UK thought to be downloading files illegally this is sure to be a big deal.Last week the department for culture, media and sport released this strategy document. Clearly this is the document leaked to The Times but it is not a ‘Green Paper' as previously suggested. A green paper is a consultation document that is seen as the first step in changing law. This strategy document titled, ‘Creative Britain: New Talents for the New Economy' is by no means as detailed or as well developed as a green paper, but it does show the government has changed its tone. In fact, Andy Burnham (British culture sectary) told the Financial Times, "Let me make it absolutely clear, this is a change of tone from the government." Both the U.S. and France are already implementing "three-strike" policies and the UK is thought to be under pressure to follow suit.
Chapter 5 of the strategy document focuses on ‘fostering and protecting intellectually property'. There are only two mentions of ISPs and piracy: "We believe that the integration of anti-piracy measures into a wider collaboration between content and network providers could create a healthier digital environment which would benefit consumers and creators. We are encouraged to see attempts at commercial solutions to the problems of piracy involving collaboration between rights holders and ISPs, and look forward to the further development of these types of solutions."
The document then goes on to warn that if the creation of voluntary scheme breaks down, the government is prepared to step in: "The Government recognises the value of the current discussions between internet service providers (ISPs) and rights-holders; we would encourage the adoption of voluntary or commercial agreements between the ISPs and all relevant sectors. While a voluntary industry agreement remains our preferred option, we have made clear that we will not hesitate to legislate in this area if required. To that end, we will consult on the form and content of regulatory arrangements in 2008 with a view to implementing legislation by April 2009."
It's thought that Britain's larger ISPs such as BT, Orange, Virgin Media, and Tiscali have been in talks with major studios and distribution companies for some time now, but there are major sticking points such as who will mediate disputes and who will foot the bill. These are the same issues that caused Tiscali and the BPI to drop a trial scheme that they ran last summer!
If an agreement can't be reached and legislation is pushed through, then failure to comply would see ISPs being prosecuted. One thing that's not clear is whether ISPs would share details of offenders with each other which would mean a ‘total ban'.
So how would the creative industries and ISPs work together to track down an illegal downloader? This news article on Yahoo suggests that rights holders would infiltrate BitTorrent swarms, collect the IP addresses of other users in that swarm, and then pass them on to the relevant ISPs. The ISP would then have to take action against the users associated with that IP at that time. To me this sounds rather simplistic and surely with the combination of encryption and anonymising techniques, Internet users will continue to exchange copyrighted material whatever efforts the ISPs make?
I'd be interested to hear readers' views on this topic-are file sharing applications already developing methods of evading detection? Do the media companies stand a chance? To those who have experience of similar schemes being implemented elsewhere, I would like to know whether it has been effective.