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”?