A ‘Bureaucratic Dog’s Breakfast’

The UK’s largest Internet service providers have been told that next year they’ll be expected to start collecting data on illegal file-sharers.

As in Ireland, where leading service provider Eircom was obliged to start contacting suspected illegal file-sharers May 24, the “three strikes” law isn’t popular with those who believe they’re being asked to spy on their customers.

The code of practice applies to ISPs with more than 400,000 customers, meaning that it will initially apply to BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Sky, Orange, O2 and the Post Office, who together control 96 percent of the market.

Ofcom will review unlawful filesharing activity on a quarterly basis and can extend the code to cover smaller ISPs and the mobile phone companies if it spreads.

If after one year the warning system doesn’t work, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt can demand the introduction of so-called technical measures including severing the broadband connections of persistent offenders.

The major UK ISPs will initially be expected to follow a code of practice proposed by media regulator Ofcom May 28, a document that’s drawn the flak from Talk Talk.

“Ofcom’s draft code of practice is a valiant attempt to implement the Digital Economy Act’s proposals, but we think it has the potential to turn into a bureaucratic dog’s breakfast,” a TalkTalk spokesman explained.

“As the code stands, millions of customers would be at risk of being falsely accused of copyright infringement, being falsely put on to an ‘offenders’ register’ and so potentially taken to court. There is little in the draft code about protecting customers from receiving misleading or bullying letters.”

Any Internet user who receives three warning letters in the space of 12 months faces having their personal details handed over to the owner of the copyrighted material so they can be sued.

TalkTalk is also worried about the lack of consideration of data protection issues and there is little in the draft code about how the regulator will ensure customers can access fair and just appeals.

It says the draft code exempts smaller ISPs and mobile operators, which it says seems arbitrary and could lead to market distortion or even kill off public Wi-Fi networks.

Consumer and citizens’ rights groups have also called for the fair treatment of customers accused of breaking copyright laws by illegal file-sharing.

The Digital Economy Act was passed during the dying days of the old Labour government that was ousted at the beginning of May. So far, the new Tory-Liberal coalition has shown no signs of wanting to repeal it.