February 12, 2008 | Becky Hogge

Government to ban illegal filesharers from the internet?

The phone lines have been buzzing at ORG headquarters this morning, as the national media have finally wised up to the Government's plans to compel ISPs to disconnect customers who routinely break their terms of service by sharing copyrighted content online. The Times frontpage kicked it all off, having seen leaked copies of next week's expected DCMS green paper The World’s Creative Hub, which contained details of proposed legislation.

"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."

The proposals are both disproportionate and doomed to failure. In most families, an internet connection is shared by the entire household - so if Dad gets the connection cut off for sharing movies online, suddenly Mum can't run her business from home, and the kids can't get access to the Web to do their homework. The Times estimates that there are 6 million people in the UK who share files illegally on the web. Any serious move towards disconnecting offenders is likely to play havoc with the Government's ambition to foster an e-enabled society.

What's more, as soon as law enforcers start snooping for IP addresses to pass on to ISPs for disconnection, hardcore filesharers will simply start using encryption to obfuscate their identities. Then they'll develop software that makes it easy for non-technical people to do the same. And then industry will be back to square one.

Industry appears to be ignoring this reality, and talks instead of legislation sending out "a strong message" that filesharing is wrong. But driving illicit filesharers further underground isn't going to earn artists a penny, and will further irritate their fans. Wouldn't it be better if instead of spending time sending out strong messages, industry started investing in new revenue streams which compensate artists fairly and respond to consumer demand for music "on tap"?

Comments (26)

  1. The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » Government to consult on legislation to curb illicit filesharing as industry agrees voluntary scheme:
    Jul 24, 2008 at 01:05 PM

    [...] the Open Rights Group has set out exhaustively on this site and in the media, disconnection is not a good option – either for internet users or for the [...]

  2. The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » ORG is hiring!:
    Apr 25, 2008 at 04:41 PM

    [...] and committed digital rights campaigner to amplify our work on issues around copyright reform and copyright infringement, taking the concerns of ORG and its supporters to Europe and [...]

  3. Digital Rights Ireland » Three unproven accusations and you’re out - why the Eircom / IRMA deal is bad for internet users:
    Jan 29, 2009 at 04:43 PM

    [...] this system will mean that others will suffer based on the alleged wrongdoing of another. As the Open Rights Group points out: if Dad gets the connection cut off … suddenly Mum can’t run her business from [...]

  4. The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » Write to your MEP: say no to “3 strikes” through the backdoor:
    Jul 02, 2008 at 04:37 PM

    [...] in February, we reported that the UK Government was considering a law to ban illicit filesharers from the ‘net. A [...]

  5. Lex Ferenda » Disconnected rights:
    Feb 19, 2008 at 12:06 AM

    [...] Following copyright law leads you to unusual stories. That much is true. The story that broke through into the popular press last week (example: BBC), though, is quite iffy even by those standards. Yes, I’m talking about the (leaked) proposal in the UK to provide that those engaged in illegal filesharing would be ‘banned from the Internet’ (have their Net access contracts terminated); the Open Rights Group (one of the best NGOs on these issues in the world) have been talking about this for some time. [...]

  6. Patrick:
    Feb 28, 2008 at 08:35 PM

    There's a petition on


  7. Becky:
    Feb 12, 2008 at 04:54 PM

    You can listen to me go head to head with Matt Phillips from the BPI on Radio 4's World at One for the next 7 days here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/news/wato/

  8. Jim’s Bag o’ Bollocks » Blog Archive » Episode 9 - Ashes to Ashes, Zack and Wiki, Government stealing our internets, Indy 4 trailer reaction:
    Feb 18, 2008 at 01:03 AM

    [...] http://www.openrightsgroup.org/2008/02/12/government-to-ban-illegal-filesharers-from-the-internet/ [...]

  9. Becky:
    Feb 18, 2008 at 11:40 AM

    Hi MJ Ray

    Where it differs from blank media levies is that it is not a mandatory, imposed cost on consumers. My suggestion was that consumers could elect to pay an additional fee for access to a licensed peer to peer filesharing facility (and yes, Dynamo Ace, I agree that this could/should be extended to all media). I do not agree with your assumption, MJ Ray, that ISPs would not track and report a full breakdown - in an environment where, eg watermarking tools, were being used for audit, and not enforcement, purposes, such a system would be efficient and cheap to maintain, as there would be no circumvention motivation.

    I also do not see how a new right would need to be created in order for this to take place, so do not follow your logic that this would create "new enclosures". But perhaps I have missed something?

    Having said all this, ORG's main objections to the current approach of ISP / rightsholder cooperation (this 3 strikes idea) are:

    1) It is disproportionate
    2) It lacks consumer safeguards
    3) It is technically infeasible

    I advocate for alterantive possibilities in the hope that, as in the past, we might give entrepreneurs the time they need to develop models that properly remit artists in a new technological environment, rather than develop knee-jerk legislation that serves only to prop up old business models and stunt technological innovation.

  10. Dynamo_ace:
    Feb 12, 2008 at 08:18 PM

    This completely ruined my day! Though i did expect this was coming since this was in the rumour mill for sometime. Rather than going around with my rants and all that. So i ask the Open rights group what should we do, protest, writee-mail MPs, spam the world and let them know or something else?

    Something has to be done to punish these "anti-pirates" who have violated two laws here already!

  11. Dynamo_ace:
    Feb 14, 2008 at 01:11 AM

    I just thought of something here

    If the average Internet connection cost £40 a month and that there are 60,000 users "pirating" (according to the propaganda) then the ISP industry risks losing £24 billion pounds a month. A single ISP containing 1,000 could risk £40,000 a month.

    I don't think i need to explain the financial consequences that could happen if the "anti-pirates" get their way. It would be like detonating a nuclear device under the London Stock Exchange. It would be that bad.

    Also, the "anti-pirates" have violated EU human rights laws as well when they force the blocking of sites. Some of which is non-negotiable and must be abided by every member state of the EU. So that's the EU Human rights,UK Companies Act and UK Computer Misuse act that they have violated here in Europe.

  12. LawFont.com » Proposals for ISPs to terminate infringers go (even more) global:
    Feb 14, 2008 at 02:28 AM

    [...] Open Rights Group put some of the problems well: In most families, an internet connection is shared by the entire household - so if Dad gets the [...]

  13. Alison Wheeler:
    Feb 12, 2008 at 07:49 PM

    Apart from the impossibility of knowing whether the 0s and 1s coming down my line from a P2P site are a movie, new FLOSS software or an authorised download from the BBC or Channel 4 OD, my ISP doesn't actually have a valid email address for me either ...

    If there was ever a technically and logically unworkable idea doomed to failure whilst looking good for the neophyte Daily Mail readers, this is it. Sadly.

  14. The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » Copyright commotions 101: Free event at LSE next month:
    Feb 15, 2008 at 06:34 PM

    [...] the beginning of this week, The Times leaked a DCMS document that promised tough action on illicit filesharers via a disproportionate and ineffective “3 strikes and you’re out” model of [...]

  15. MJ Ray:
    Feb 15, 2008 at 08:34 PM

    OK, so not collective licensing, but as near as damnit, because I doubt any ISP is going to track and report a full breakdown, because it'll be cheaper not to. Or can someone explain how "licensing agreements much like the way that radio stations licence to play music on air" won't result in people who don't want to pay the BPI paying the BPI through inflated ISP bills?

    In other words, how is that not furthering the New Enclosures? Isn't it much like Blank Media Taxes?

    Thanks in advance.

    (The above comment is under WTFPL and not cc-by-sa.)

  16. Dynamo_ace:
    Feb 15, 2008 at 04:05 PM

    If there is going to be any legalising of P2P, it will need to be either a flat rate, all content, all countries, opt in system OR legalised for non-commercial use with no fee and that anti-pirates are not allowed to file any complaints to P2P.

    By the way ORG, if you need any help in your protests against the idiotic anti-pirate's plans, which have also shown that they treat all British ISPs as scum (If The Register is true, which is usually isn't but they have been part of the condemnation) let me know. I have the contacts to spread the word and some evidence and ideas that you might need.

  17. Becky:
    Feb 15, 2008 at 05:25 PM

    Hi MJ Ray

    Here's what I said on this issue on WATO:

    "I think the ISPs and rightsholders like those represented by the BPI could collaborate but I think what the BPI are missing here is that the ISPs' customers are potentially their customers. Of those six million illicit file sharers a very small minority are going to be hackers intent on breaking the law. They're really a potential market for rights holders and if rights holders got together with ISPs and talked about licensing agreements much like the way that radio stations licence to play music on air then I think so long as the government stays out of legislating for a while that could be an emerging business model that could work for consumers, the record industry and internet users."

    I was not calling for collective licensing. What I was referring to is the opportunity for ISPs and the recording industry to forge competitive, commercial partnerships that can offer internet users an option to consume music in the way that the popularity of illicit filesharing proves they want to. This would, I imagine, involve ISPs offering their customers access to a licensed p2p filesharing facility for an additional fee that they could then remit to artists.

    At the moment, rightsholders are expending all their resources on efforts which will only serve to drive illicit filesharers underground. Were they instead to concentrate their efforts on "competing with free" - and attracting those illicit filesharers who do what they do simply because they haven't been offered an attractive, legal alternative - they would be serving the interests of the artists they represent much more sensibly.

    I hope this clears things up.

  18. The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » European Parliament condemns “3 strikes” approach:
    Apr 10, 2008 at 12:07 PM

    [...] filesharing this Spring. We’ve already blogged about ORG’s objections to UK proposals here. In short, and as the European Parliament have recognised today, they are disproportionate, they [...]

  19. David Harris:
    Feb 24, 2008 at 10:29 AM

    There is a pledge related to this: http://www.pledgebank.com/filesharing

  20. Dynamo_ace:
    Feb 15, 2008 at 06:19 PM

    I understand this Becky but this can't just be for music. All content has to be Legalised for P2P (and Video sharing) use sooner rather than later.

    The trouble is that I doubt the anti-pirates will listen, when such a thing was talked about in Canada. The CRIA (The Canadian BPI, which ironically is comprised only of foreign companies, rejected it and spouted the same propaganda as before.

    It seems the anti-pirates only desire is war, not peace.

  21. MJ Ray:
    Feb 15, 2008 at 01:54 PM

    Did I hear that right? Did you really call for collective licensing of ISPs on the World at One?

    The above comment is under WTFPL and not cc-by-sa.

  22. Dynamo_ace:
    Mar 05, 2008 at 01:36 PM

    Update: there seems to be two petitions i know that are doing this on 10 Downing street's website.

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/LawyerISP/ (349 Signitures at time of press)

    http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/openinternet/ (201 Sigintures at time of press)

    I also sense propaganda coming from a new set one of the anti-pirate's new research units as well as some foul play.

  23. Dynamo_ace:
    Mar 02, 2008 at 04:47 PM

    On the subject of the 10 Downing street petition, Can anyone compare the signatures of the astroturfer's petition to the one linked by Patrick?

    (They are both on the same site so it should not be difficult to find)

  24. Anon:
    Mar 01, 2009 at 07:30 PM

    How will they police this? Will it be linked to the national communications database? How will they stop encryption?

  25. Zac:
    Feb 12, 2008 at 07:40 PM

    This is what I subscribe for, time for you to step up and get ridiculous ideas like this thrown out, a petition would be a good start: http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/

  26. Colossal Squid:
    Feb 12, 2008 at 10:14 PM

    Deep packet inspection will theoretically allow ISPs to tell if you're d/loading a movie, music or FLOSS ISO.
    Until you use encryption of course. Or tunnel everything using SSH from a shell account outside the UK.
    What worries me is the "Users suspected of wrongly downloading films or music" part. Where's my redress if they get it wrong? Oh and burden of proof and all that.