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British Internet Service Providers Cry Foul Over Copyright Bill

in Broadband's Impact/Copyright by

WASHINTON, November 23, 2009 - British Internet service providers are alarmed by government efforts to enact legislation they claim would place an unfair burden on them to go after alleged copyright infringers online.

The U.K. Internet Services Providers' Association said Friday they are concerned that legislation currently being considered would “penalize the success of the Internet industry and undermine the backbone of the digital economy.”

TalkTalk, one of the U.K.’s largest ISPs, said the proposed bill would enable the owners of copyrighted content to send “offending” internet protocol addresses to internet service providers in order to match the address to a broadband connection.

The ISP would then be asked to send out warning letters to account holders. If the broadband user continued to offend the copyright holder the ISP would be required to impose a penalty on the customer such as disconnecting the user from the Internet.

The British ISPA said it was “disappointed at the threat of technical measures and calls for the reserve powers, which include the imposition of technical sanctions on users, to be dropped from the bill. ISPA members believe measures such as filtering would be ineffective, expensive, difficult to implement and could have unintended consequences such as restricting access to legitimate services.”

The U.K. government “considers it appropriate for ISPs to be reimbursed for costs incurred when assisting in serious criminal investigations, such as terrorism or kidnap, but not for costs incurred pursuing an alleged civil infringement on behalf of a commercial interest,” said Nicholas Lansman of ISPA.

Last week the first reading of the bill took place before the House of Lords. The date of the next reading of the legislation has not been announced.

ISPA “members believe that an obligation must be placed on rightsholders to pursue targeted legal action against persistent infringers. ISPA supports the view of consumer groups that strong deterrents already exist, such as the threat of litigation in the courts, and thinks that this should be recognized in the legislation,” it states. The group further said rightsholders should shoulder some of the financial burden and reimburse ISPs for any reasonable costs.

“ISPs provide timely and accurate assistance to law enforcement with serious criminal investigations, under a system of cost recovery, and therefore should not incur costs for pursuing alleged civil infringements,” the group said.

The group said the bill gives too much control to the Secretary of State who would have the power to make “specific recommendations on costs and impose an obligation on ISPs to use technical sanctions.” An independent oversight body would be a better option, ISPA holds.

TalkTalk wrote in a blog entry Friday that the bill is a “backward step in the efforts to reduce illegal filesharing while further threatening the rights of the consumer” by giving the government the ability “to punish people they think are infringing copyright without having to prove their case in court.”

“It doesn't matter how many websites are blocked, how many services are shut down or how many individuals are pursued, people will always find ways to access copyrighted content for free,” stated Charles Dunstone, CEO of TalkTalk.

Dunstone said his company “believes that to reduce illegal filesharing, music and film fans must be encouraged back to legal services through education and by making content available in a form and at a price that people find acceptable.”

In the meantime, TalkTalk pledged to its customers, “If we are instructed to disconnect your account due to alleged copyright infringement we will refuse to do so and tell the rightsholders we'll see them in court.”

According to recent news reports in the U.S., Verizon Communications has agreed to forward copyright violation notices on behalf of Hollywood studios such as NBC Universal.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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