UK piracy about turn stirs outrage, meets resistance

Reports of the UK’s new plan to come down hard on internet piracy may have been exaggerated and really most of the coverage has come about because of the involvement of long time labour party stalwart Peter Mandelson. The UK media love to hate Mandelson who has had multiple positions of power in the last two UK Labour governments, and is usually hounded out of power by the UK press.

Press reports in the UK have the story that Mandelson met with American film producer David Geffen on holiday and has come home intent on rushing through a change of government policy from his position at the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) which he now runs. The department has not denied that the meeting took place, but says that internet piracy was never discussed.

Both the Guardian ( a pro-Labour party newspaper) and the Telegraph (an anti-Labour party newspaper) carried stories insisting that the Secretary of State’s Office would now be able to overrule regulator Ofcom, and speed up the suspension of suspected piracy accounts. Previously the responsibility would lay with regulator Ofcom, under recommendations first published in the recent Digital Britain report.

What had been anticipated as the correct process was that filesharers would get warning letters and then gradually each case would be escalated until it ended in the courts, finally culminating in ISPs being asked to suspend accounts temporarily. The new suggestion is that the Secretary of State can just issue an order without any court involvement.

BIS issued a statement saying that new ideas for swifter measures to tackle unlawful file-sharing had been published which amounts to an attempt to add provisions to the forthcoming Digital Economy Bill and confirmed that it had provisions for the Secretary of State to direct Ofcom to introduce technical measures to clamp down on piracy. Technical measures is code for cutting off an internet account.

The technical measures originally envisaged were blocking access to download sites, reducing broadband speeds, or temporarily suspending the individual’s Internet account.

There has been a huge outcry from the telecommunications community and civil liberties groups at the potential change and it is unlikely that it will find its way into the new bill. The new proposal is also likely to conflict with a European Parliament directive issued this year prohibiting EU governments from cutting off a user’s internet connection without a court order.