Largely away from public attention, Karoo in Hull have been operating a ‘three strikes’ policy with the tacit support of rights holders.
Without any legal intervention or right of appeal, Karoo have been disconnecting users and forcing them to promise not to infringe copyright. They have been charging for reconnection on the second and third ‘offence’.
They then consider permanent disconnection: and with no other telecoms company in Hull, this may mean no internet access for some of those disconnected.
None of this takes place through a court. The ‘evidence’ is not examined and cannot be disputed. Users have to accept responsibility for the alleged infringements in order to be reconnected.
This can take place, according to Karoo, because users have signed an agreement which precludes infringing copyright.
Open Rights Group wants to know more from the rights holders who presumably are supplying information about alleged copyright infringers to Karoo. Do they support this policy of disconnection? Are they happy for users to have their legal rights circumvented? Why are they supporting this approach in Hull rather than the letter writing campaigns they have engaged with elsewhere?
There is a basic question of proportionality. A teenager who downloads a song with a purchase value of under a pound may cause their parent’s job or businesses to be disrupted. Copyright infringement could easily lead to loss of a citizen’s ability to partake in political action organised online.
There’s also a strong element of bullying. By signing an indemnity and promising not to infringe copyright in the future, users are being asked to do something impossible. You cannot tell what’s legal to download or watch by looking at the file. Even the providers themselves can get it wrong – that’s why copyright cases go to court.
Why are Karoo able to get away with such an unreasonable regime? Largely because they are a monopoly in Hull. There are no alternative providers, so users just have to put up with it. And judging from a number of forums, they are riled.
There is one thing we can be grateful for. This experiment shows exactly how harsh and unreasonable copyright enforcement online looks: we urge Karoo users to complain to Karoo, and their MPs, that their human rights are being bypassed.
UPDATE: KAROO CHANGES POLICY
Karoo have shifted their policy, but are still threatening disconnection: they will send "three written notifications before their service is temporarily suspended". We reiterate that guilt and sanctions are a matter for the courts. This is an especially important principle for Karoo, whose monopoly position means users have to use their service and accept their policies.
UPDATE 2: KAROO CHANGES POLICY
Karoo has now decided it will only cut off the service if a court orders it to do so.
"We will provide customers with up to three written notifications to make them aware that a copyright owner has alleged that their internet account has been used to infringe their copyrighted material, and that the copyright owner may wish to take further action," ... "If the copyright owner obtains an order from the court requiring us to take any action, we will comply with the terms of the order. Our new policy, whilst still taking the issues of copyright infringement and illegal internet activity seriously, reflects the approach taken by many ISPs,"ZDNet has more details