Illegal file sharers to be cut off the internetGovernment looks to ban digital pirates

25 August 2009

hand on computer mouse

The government has announced ‘heavy-handed’ plans to cut off illegal file sharers from the internet.

The plans contained in a last minute amendment to the Digital Britain report, would see Ofcom given powers to introduce ‘technical measures’ to tackle people who repeatedly swap and download copyrighted films and music.

The government said technical measures could include suspending the accounts of the ‘hard core of copyright pirates.’

The move has been criticised by consumer groups and internet service providers (ISPs).

Innocents caught in net

Which? is concerned that innocent people could be wrongly cut off without redress. Which? Computing has heard from hundreds of people who say they have been wrongly accused of sharing copyrighted video games and music. They are fighting to prove their innocence with the threat of court action hanging over them unless they pay compensation of up to £665.

Editor of Which? Computing, Sarah Kidner, said: 'We've received hundreds of letters from consumers who claim to have been wrongfully accused of file-sharing. To cut-off potentially innocent consumers without indisputable proof or course for redress is blatantly unfair.'

We spoke to Bus Driver David Adshead from Yorkshire as part of the Which? technology podcast. He has been accused of sharing an album by a German dance music band called Scooter, but claims he had never heard of the band before receiving a letter demanding compensation.

Listen to the Which? technology weekly podcast, 10 December 2009

In our response to the Digital Britain report, Which? will urge the government to first establish a rigourous method for identifying file sharers. We favour the original government proposal to tackle illegal file sharing by sending warning letters before technical measures are imposed.

Which? has spoken to ISPs who are reluctant to police the web or to cut off their customers.

Heavy handed tactics

Virgin Media said: ‘We share the government's commitment to addressing the piracy problem and recognise that new laws have an important role to play in this. But persuasion, not coercion, is the key to changing consumer behaviour as a heavy-handed, punitive regime will simply alienate mainstream consumers.’

Chairman of Consumer Focus, Larry Whitty, said: ‘Cutting people off the internet for allegedly infringing copyright is disproportionate. And to do so without giving consumers the right to challenge the evidence against them undermines fundamental rights to a fair trial.

‘It would be unfair to enforce this law in an area where millions of consumers are not clear on what is allowed and what is not. Unless a better solution can be found substantial elements of the population will be criminalised.’

Technical measures brought forward

The government had said in June that Ofcom would have until 2012 to consider whether technical measures were necessary. The statement from Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms said those plans could ‘delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders.’

The plans are open to consultation until 29 September.

Secure your wireless connection

To avoid being wrongly accused of illegal file sharing, you should make sure that your wireless internet connection is secure to stop high-tech criminals from piggy backing on your line.