Which? responds to file sharing plansGovernment plans threaten consumer rights

03 September 2009

Scales of justice

The government’s plans to crack down on illegal file sharers pose a threat to consumer rights, says Which?

In a letter to The Times, Which?, along with internet service providers BT and TalkTalk, calls on the government to set in place a process where consumers can protect themselves against false accusations of file sharing.

At the moment, consumers are facing a fight to prove their innocence in the face of file sharing accusations. Many of the consumers who have contacted Which? fear they have been put in the frame after having their wireless internet connection hijacked.

Heavy-handed measures

The correspondence comes in response to a guest column in The Times written by Lord Mandelson in which he defends the government’s proposed anti-piracy measures, which could include barring consumers from the internet.

Which? has called the measures ‘heavy-handed' because of fears that innocent consumers could be cut off the internet without recourse to a proper redress system.

The full letter to The Times is printed below.

Anti-piracy measures must not disregard consumer rights

Sir. We agree that the creative industries play an important role in the UK and understand the challenge that illegal files sharing presents. We don't condone or encourage such activity, but we are concerned that the government’s latest proposals on the ‘how’ to reduce illegal file sharing are misconceived and threaten broadband consumers’ rights and the development of new attractive services. Experience in other countries suggests that pursuing such an approach can result in significant consumer resistance. Any new policy must be very carefully considered.

First, any decision to move to harsh and punitive measures such as disconnection must be genuinely underpinned by rigorous and objective assessment by Ofcom.

Second, consumers must be presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. We must avoid an extra-judicial ‘kangaroo court’ process where evidence is not properly tested and accused broadband users are denied the right to defend themselves against false accusations. Without these protections innocent customers will suffer.

Third, any penalty must be proportionate. Disconnecting users from the internet would place serious limits on their freedom of expression. Usually constraints to freedom of expression are only imposed as the result of custodial sentences, or incitement to racial hatred, or libel.

Fourth, the proposal that ISPs and by implication broadband customers should pay most of the cost of these measures to support the creative industries is grossly unfair since the vast majority of consumers do not illegally file share. Further, this payment approach would discourage content industries from developing new services.

We hope that the government will genuinely consider consumers’ rights in its endeavours to protect the creative industries.

Charles Dunstone, TalkTalk
Ian Livingston, BT
Jim Killock, Open Rights Group
Ed Mayo, Consumer Focus
Deborah Prince, Which?

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