Friday, February 15, 2008

Internet users could be banned over illegal downloads

People who illegally download films and music will be cut off from the internet under new legislative proposals to be unveiled next week.

Internet service providers (ISPs) will be legally required to take action against users who access pirated material, The Times has learnt.

Users suspected of wrongly downloading films or music will receive a warning e-mail for the first offence, a suspension for the second infringement and the termination of their internet contract if caught a third time, under the most likely option to emerge from discussions about the new law.

Broadband companies who fail to enforce the "three-strikes" regime would be prosecuted and suspected customers' details could be made available to the courts. The Government has yet to decide if information on offenders should
be shared between ISPs. Six million broadband users are estimated to download files illegally every year in this country in a practice that music and film companies claim is costing them billions of pounds in lost revenue annually.

Britain's four biggest internet providers – BT, Tiscali, Orange and Virgin Media – have been in talks with Hollywood's biggest studio and distribution companies for six months over a voluntary scheme.

Parallel negotiations between Britain's music industry and individual internet providers have been dragging on for two years.

Major sticking points include who will arbitrate disputed allegations, for example when customers claim to have been the victim of "wi-fi piggybacking", in which users link up to a paid-for wireless network that is not their own. Another outstanding disagreement is how many enforcements the internet companies will be expected to initiate and how quickly warning e-mails would be sent.

International action in the US and France, which is implementing its own "three-strikes" regime, has increased the pressure on British internet companies and stiffened the Government's resolve.

Ministers will make an explicit commitment to legislate with the launch next week of a Green Paper on the creative industries. A draft copy, obtained by The Times, states: "We will move to legislate to require internet service providers to take action on illegal file-sharing." A consultation paper setting out the options is promised within months.

A spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association said it remained hopeful that agreement over a voluntary agreement could be reached: "Every right-thinking body knows that self-regulation is much the better option in these areas."

Roz Groome, vice-president of antipiracy for NBC Universal, welcomed the prospect of new laws. "We welcome the signal from Government that it values the health of the creative industries and takes seriously the damage caused
by widespread online copyright infringement. We call upon ISPs to take action now. They must play their part in the fight against online piracy and work with rights owners to ensure that ISPs' customers do not use their services for illegal activity. Piracy stifles innovation and threatens the long term health of our industry."

Ed Vaizey, the Shadow Arts Minister, said: "David Cameron called on the internet providers to address this issue last summer. The credibility of the Government's latest threat is undermined by the fact that ministers have spent so many years dithering on whether to legislate."

The commitment forms part of a Green Paper on the creative industries entitled The World's Creative Hub to be launched by Andy Burnham, the Culture Secretary, and Gordon Brown next week. Other high-profile elements include a pledge that children will be entitled to five hours of culture a week overseen by a new youth culture trust. The
pledge will give children the right to learn a musical instrument, visit art galleries and museums and even make films.

Other pledges include setting up a new international conference modelled on Davos, entitled the World Creative Economy Forum, and supporting a new £200 million film centre at the South Bank in London. A spokeswoman for the
Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: "Early drafts of our creative economy programme document were circulated to stakeholders for comment. The content and proposals for the strategy have been significantly developed
since then and a comprehensive plan to bolster the UK's creative industries will be published shortly. We will not comment on the content of the leaked document."

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