UK to copy French 'Hadopi' internet piracy bill
UK business minister Peter Mandelson has announced that the UK intends to adopt legislation almost identical to France's controversial three-strikes anti-internet-piracy legislation.
As in France, websurfers found to be downloading content without permission of the copyright owner will first be sent a warning email.
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But where across the English Channel, internauts are then sent a letter in the post, in the UK, they will have their bandwidth restricted.
A third offense will then, as with President Nicholas Sarkozy's flagship legislation, result in internet cut-off.
Paris' ‘Hadopi' law, named for the new government agency charged with hunting down the pirates, is considered draconian by online rights advocates for the powers the agency has, backed by a series of special piracy judges, to cut off internet access and even jail repeat offenders.
In the UK, no new agency is to be created. Rather, the Office of Communications, or as it is more commonly known, Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, will be tasked with the downloading manhunt.
While civil rights campaigners worry about the tracking of people's websurfing and the restriction of what they argue is now a service as essential as water or electricity, the French bill has inspired other European governments, keen to stuff the internet piracy genie back in the bottle.
Mr Mandelson, the former EU trade commissioner, intends to place a bill before parliament next month and hopes that the British version of the Hadopi bill will come online by April next year.
The first disconnections would likely take place fifteen months from then, towards the end of 2011.
The Open Rights Group, an online civil liberties campaign organisation in the UK, says the bill is not needed as illegal downloading is actually rapidly on decline as new, legal business models appear that are attractive to consumers.
"This is really heavy-handed," the group's spokesman, Jim Killock, told EUobserver. "It's a drastic piece of legislation at a time when it's not needed."
"Illegal downloading dropped 40 percent in the last 12 months in the UK. This is the result of the launch and growth of options such as Spotify, Last FM, Deezer and others that both provide free listening to users and deliver revenues to the rights holders.
While some European countries have ruled out the French and now British approach, others are watching with interest to see whether the laws are successful before introducing similar bills.
The announcement of the legislation comes as Demos, a left-wing think-tank close to New Labour, published a new report showing that, counterintuitively, the biggest illegal downloaders of music are also the biggest spenders.
A survey, published on Sunday (1 November), found that in the UK, those that admit to illegal downloading spend an average of £77 a year on music compared to the £33 a year that those who claim never to download music spend.
The logic behind this, says the think-tank, is that those who most love music are the ones that are the most addicted to downloading but also the ones that go to the most concerts, buy the most band t-shirts and will fork out for special edition CDs or DVDs of their favourite bands.
The UK's record sector association, the British Phonographic Industry, says that illegal downloading by an estimated 7 million Britons have cost music companies £200 million in 2009 already and strongly backs the proposed legislation
But musicians themselves are not of the same mind. The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) and the Music Producers Guild in September challenged the BPI's stance.
"The very fuzzy estimates for the annual benefits of such legislation - £200 million per year - make clear that such estimates are based firmly upon the premise that a peer-to-peer downloaded track equals a lost sale. This ‘substitutional' argument is, in reality, no more than lobbyists' speak," the groups said in a statement.
"In contrast to the lack of any credible evidence for the size of the substitutional effect, there is evidence that repeat file-sharers of music are also repeat purchasers of music, movies, and documentaries."
The FAC, whose members include Blur's Dave Rowntree, KT Tunstall and Radiohead, do want the government to go after what they call the "thieving rascal" companies that seek make money from giving away music, but argue that that Mr Mandelson is chasing down the wrong people - their fans.
"The focus of our objection is the proposed treatment of ordinary music fans who download a few tracks so as to check out our material before they buy. For those of us who don't get played on the radio or mentioned in the music media – artists established and emerging – peer-to-peer recommendation is an important form of promotion."