Posted on August 18th, 2009 No comments
After a period of quiet, summer seems to be passing by and the news is beginning to fill with other than the normal ’silly season’ stories. Parliament may still be in recess (will be for some while) and Ministers and others are well away from Westminster - where is the Prime Minister (Alastair Darling is stepping in in Gordon’s absence) and has he had to obtain a CRB clearance to engage in social projects…… umm!
But, work does go on for some and there are a few stories making the headlines.
Back in June, Stephen Carter published the final version of the Digital Britain report. That was much trumpeted and covered elsewhere - we chose to look at another digital report that appeared around the same time, or rather, the Digital Manifesto published by the Childrens Charities Coalition on Internet Safety. Now we have the arrival of the implementation plan for Digital Britain and we can see how the legislation is being planned in order to put into place the various recommendations.
The provisions of faster broadband and universal access have been much covered in the media. The reality is that faster access can only come through a fundamental change in the delivery infrastructure - and that means moving to direct fibre. The plans for a ‘digital tax’ (a levy of 50p per month on all fixed line telephone circuits) seems to have gone quiet……
Other areas have more direct impact on ISPs in the short term. The music industry has campaigned about the problems of piracy and the losses that it suffers as a result of peer to peer file sharing etc. There are more immediate pressures for changes in this area and we can now see that part of the implementation group has been tasked with:
Consultation on proposals to legislate to give Ofcom a duty aimed at reducing copyright infringement
Provide for backstop powers for Ofcom to place additional conditions on ISPs to reduce or prevent online copyright infringement by the application of various technical measures
At the end of the 12 month period there is no significant reduction in unlawful file sharing Ofcom should use its backstop powers
Consultation on the trigger mechanism which needs to give both rights holders and ISPs strong incentives to make the notification system work
There have already been some agreements between ISPs and rights owners and these have resulted in letters being sent to users identified as uploaders of file share materials. This - an implementation of the ‘three strikes’ approach - provides for a step approach when a user is identified as being involved in peer to peer sharing. Practically, identification means users uploading (advertising) materials for download by others. However, the identification is somewhat fraught - there are well recognised possibilities of false seeding of IP addresses and other techniques to swamp rights owners search processes. There are also problems where users have unsecured networks (wireless routers) and are held liable for use by unauthorised users. It is not a legal requirement to secure a network - it may be negligent but that definition may be dependent on the user’s understanding and knowledge of their system.
It seems that the approach recommended by Digital Britain is for ISPs to adopt active packet shaping in order to restrict the performance experience of those identified as being persistent or regular peer to peer users. Whilst this may have an immediate attraction, the reality may well be that larger ISPs may have the capacity and the capability to make this happen - but that the smaller providers may not. Smaller providers may have just one, or perhaps a small number of central pipe connections which may make it difficult to route users to a particular ‘bad boys’ pipe. Some of the smaller users have made specific marketing decisions not to packet shape or to block traffic in order to differentiate themselves - there may be problems in implementing technical solutions which are not currently provided for within the network equipment.
There are other actions within the Digital Britain report to look at the funding structure of the Internet Watch Foundation - and to incorporate its work within pan-European approaches to child abuse content identification and blocking.
Of course, the summer period would not be summer without media scare stories. On Monday 17th August the Daily Telegraph reported that a file sharer had been ordered to pay damages and disbursements of £16,000 by the Patents County Court in London. The Telegraph went on to suggest that parents cold find themselves with substantial charges as a result of file sharing and downloading by their children. The case against the Internet user was brought forward after action on behalf of their client (a games producer) by solicitors Davenport Lyons. Davenports had persuaded the High Court to grant orders requiring ISPs to divulge details of users of particular IP addresses - ISPs will normally be reticent in any such disclosure for fear of contravening the data subjects rights under the Data Protection Act. Davenports had previously acted for a number of rights owners including Atari but this case does now seem to have gone further with a strong deterrent level of fine and disbursement applied.
Other media reports (Daily Mail) suggested that the Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson, had agreed to impose fines on those found to be abusing their Internet access. This story was rapidly denied, ‘A spokeswoman at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) told The Register that it was “nonsense” to “speculate” that Mandelson would target teenagers who illegally download music and films.’
It is worth noting that fines can only be issued by a court after a hearing in which the accused has the right to submit a defence. Penalty charges may be applied in other circumstances but these are not ‘fines’. The Magistrates Association expressed concerns (19th August) that the police might ‘abuse’ proposals for new powers to award fixed penalty notices (comments strongly rejected [of course] by the police) - the thought passes our minds that Ofcom may be given powers to impose fixed penalty notices on end users accused of infringing copyright. The Magistrates Association made the comment that fixed penalties are fine for absolute offences but are problematic where there is a subjective interpretation involved. In the case of copyright infringement there may well be good defences - a hijacked network, use by other without the service owners consent or knowledge etc.
But all of the legislative changes to be implemented as part of the Digital Britain Bill are dependent on the
Bill receiving parliamentary time for debate and passage. It is in the Government draft legislative programme for the final session of this parliament - but an election is due by June 2010 (bring it on we say!) and there must be reservations over actual passage of large scale legislation before then.
It does still seem to be ’silly season’.