Music Pirates Won’t Be Cut Adrift

Internet service providers will reportedly not be forced to disconnect users who repeatedly flout the law by illegally sharing music and video files.

A year ago, culture secretary Andy Burnham said the government had “serious legislative intent” to compel Internet companies to cut off customers who ignore warnings not to pirate material, but The Times claims intellectual property minister David Lammy is ruling out legislation to force ISPs to disconnect illegal file-sharers.

Speaking ahead of the publication of a report on the future of Britain’s digital industries, Lammy was reported to have told the Times there are very complex legal issues wrapped up in enforced disconnection.

“I’m not sure it’s actually going to be possible,” he said.

Plans to combat Internet pirates were stalled after a consultation by the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) showed there was no consensus between ISPs and the music industry as to how to deal with the 7 million British Internet users who share files illegally each year.

The BPI, which represents the British record industry, wants all ISPs to sign up to a “three-steps policy” by which repeat offenders are disconnected if they fail to stop sharing copyrighted material.

Communications minister Lord Carter was expected to release Digital Britain – a report that deals with the problem of illicit file sharing – Jan. 26, but a “ministerial quagmire” led to a delay.

Suggestions have emerged that Lord Carter will order the founding of a “rights agency,” funded by a levy on service providers, to address the problem of piracy, or that he may suggest additional charges on customers’ broadband bills to compensate the music industry.

In July 2008 the music industry and ISPs drew up a memorandum of understanding in which the ISPs agreed to send 1,000 letters a week for three months to combat users caught sharing files illegally.

The memorandum created a series of working groups dedicated to bringing the two industries together to solve the problem of illegal peer-to-peer networks, which the music industry says costs its members £180million a year.

The ISPs believe that new business models and greater public education will help to solve the problem. They oppose any solution that involves new regulatory burdens being imposed on them.

The government, with the support of the music industry, favours a co-regulatory resolution, under which both parties agree to a code of conduct which is backed up by a regulator, such as Ofcom.

Lammy, who has begun a big consultation called Developing A Copyright Agenda For The 21st Century, said that there was a big difference between organised counterfeiting gangs and “younger people not quite buying into the system.”

“We can’t have a system where we’re talking about arresting teenagers in their bedrooms. People can rent a room in an hotel and leave with a bar of soap – there’s a big difference between leaving with a bar of soap and leaving with the television,” he explained.

He says he hopes the memorandum of understanding will mean that the government did not have to apply “the heavy hand of legislation.”

Music industry figures are said to be disappointed by Lammy’s comments. BPI director of public affairs Richard Mollet has dismissed the comments, saying British music creators are sure to be insulted at the analogy between British music and complimentary soap from hotels.