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ShareMandelson – New master of the digital economy?

Last month (here) we discussed Mandelson’s announcement at the ‘C&binet Conference’ regarding the tackling of illegal file sharers and his continued proposal of a three strikes system. These proposals have now progressed further with the release of the Digital Economy Bill.

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

The bill covers a number of issues but the key features affecting ISPs and broadband users are as follows:

  1. 1. ISPs will be forced to provide written warnings to alleged illegal file sharers when alerted to do so by the copyright holders. Additionally, ISPs will be required to record how many warnings the accused customers have received and feed this back to the rights holders.
  2. 2.The Secretary of State (currently Mandelson) will be given new powers to update the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act in order to react to changes in technology more quickly. The powers will be exercised by statutory instrument rather than primary legislation which means although the proposals will need to be debated in the Houses of Parliament and will be subject to public consultation the MPs and Lords cannot block them.
  3. The Register: Filesharing laws to hit websites and newsgroups too
  4. 3. The use of orphan networks will be allowed where the rights holder cannot be found or identified.
  5. 4. The government will be given the power to reform and restructure Nominet, the body responsible for domain names in the UK. This follows recent board resignations.
  6. The Register: Mandelson to get Nominet reform powers
  7. 5. Ofcom will be assigned new duties to promote investment in the UK communications infrastructure and will be required to assess this every two years.

Alongside other ISPs, Entanet has voiced concerns over this policy for some time now but it appears that Mandelson has finally got his way – although the bill has not actually made it into law yet. Once the Digital Economy Bill is on the statute books ISPs will be forced to send written warnings to alleged copyright infringers at the request of the copyright holder. As expected the suspected users will be identified by the copyright holders using IP addresses from BitTorrent. The ISPs will then be required to record the number of warnings each suspected user receives and supply this information to the copyright holders. If the copyright holder wants further information on a particular persistent offender they will require a court order.

Originally Mandelson suggested that if the level of illegal file sharing had not been reduced by 70% by April 2011 additional technical measures including disconnection would be introduced. The bill however details no specific timetable for these additional measures.

As we continue to be frustrated by the possibility of the additional technical measures, the fundamentally flawed process of identifying illegal file sharers by IP address and the high potential for incorrect allegations, we think this latest move raises a new concern. It’s now suggested that Mandelson and his successors will be able to amend copyright law as and when required in order to keep up with technological changes. Whilst I understand the benefits that this would bring for copyright holders and the need to react quickly I am concerned that this basically results in Mandelson et al being able to change the law as and when they feel necessary without the Lords or MP’s being able to block the move. I thought Britain was a democracy! Maybe using the past tense is correct.

Surely the ongoing debate over the three strikes policy has taught us that this is a very complex issue affecting a number of different stakeholders with opposing views and priorities. Careful consideration is needed then to ensure the best result for all. By granting this sort of unprecedented power to an individual (especially one who is likely to have their own political agenda) can only result in a bias towards a certain industry, in this case likely to be the entertainment industry. How can we be sure the needs of all stakeholders, in this case ISPs and their customers (the public) are effectively considered? The bill suggests that the proposed changes to the act would still be subject to public consultation and debate in the Houses of Parliament but without the power to block the implementation of the laws this seems pointless; the overriding power remains with Mandelson.

In our view the concept of allowing an individual with their own political agenda the power to amend the law as and when they deem necessary is ridiculous and needs rethinking completely.

Have your say!

What do you think? Do you think the Digital Economy Bill is correct and the Secretary of State should be given the power to amend the law in order to ensure it can react more quickly to changes in technology? Or like us do you think that granting a political individual this amount of power is undemocratic? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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2 Responses to “Mandelson – New master of the digital economy?”

  1. I share your concerns.

    The Bill is seeking to impose a “pre-digital” business model over a medium not at all suited to that business model.

    The policing and legality of it all is very worrying.

  2. This unelected persons lack of knowledge for the position he has been given is astounding.But when he is wined and dined by people from one side of the argument it is understandable that he leans towards where his own interests are helped as a career politician.

    Copyright holders need to take some alleged file sharers to court for their case to have any credibility,up to press i know of no cases that are going through the courts yet Lord Peter and his chums would have us believe that they are losing massive sums of money, we really do only have their tainted word for that assumption.

    As for isp’s being up in arms,in my opinion yes IF presented with a court order they should pass on information,Copyright holders should cover the costs of this we have enough laws already to cover this ,until they are proven in court to be unworkable they should be abided by.

    ISP’s however on another point are IMO cutting their own throats over one point, many are installing and using DPI now to throttle and monitor usage on their networks to protect their own business model,if government now come along and say we also want you to use the hardware to identify/disconnect et al users of traffic type “x” to protect someone elses business model they can hardly then take the moral high ground,as the costs have already been largely met.

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