As the UK continues to oppose users rights in the Telecoms Package, opposition is gathering at home and rifts in the government line are appearing.
Culture Minister says no disconnection without a court order. But he is dismissed by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills under pressure from the copyright lobby. Parliamentary Committee calls for all work in the policy area to halt pending the outomce of Amendment 138. And top ISP Carphone Warehouse has launched a public campaign against the government's proposals.
The UK government is divided on its so-called P2P policy, which seeks to use hi-tech means to get the broadband providers to enforce copyright on the Internet. Ben Bradshaw, the Culture Secretary, speaking to a ParliamentarySelect Committee, stated that a court order would need to be obtained before users' access could be suspended. A week later, Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, said that users will simply be informed in advance, with a right to appeal.
In a separate development, the All-Party Parliamentary Communications Group has called on the government to cease this policy programme until the EU Telecoms Package is concluded.
Ben Bradshaw was giving evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport .* He was questioned by MP Tom Watson (Labour) who asked, in reference to the proposals to temporarily cut people off the Internet: "do you think people deserve to prove their innocence in a court of law?" Ben Bradshaw answered: " Yes, absolutely. The suspension to which you refer is a last resort for serial offenders. It will be subject to a strict 2-stage process, and will not happen on the basis of an accusation as you suggest. Firstly there would need to be a court order. Secondly there is a right of appeal to a Tier 1 Tribunal." **
In a second phase of questioning on the topic of suspension of Internet access, Ben Bradshaw said that the court order for suspension would be subject to an appeals process before it would be implemented.
Although Mr Bradshaw's answers were flaky in respect of the economic benefits - or damage - that could result from measures, his remarks do reflect a more considered attitude than the gung-ho approach of Lord Mandelson,
Speaking at an industry conference earlier this week, Lord Mandelson outlined a 3-strikes approach of two warnings followed by suspension of the Internet account, with the opportunity to appeal. It is unclear what kind of appeal, and whether that would be the abovementioned Tier 1 Tribunal. Lord Mandelson's allegiance to the creative industries ( and lack of support for the Internet industry) was evident by his statement "the days of consequence-free widespread online infringement are over". His reported speech contrasted somewhat with the official press release, which said that "technical measures" for account suspension would only be a last resort. His words bely the real line that he wishes to take.
It is also evident that neither he nor Ben Bradshaw understand what the the 70 per cent target to reduce file-sharing, actually means. ***
Lord Mandelson was speaking to an audience of media and creative industry elite - an audience of the very groups who have lobbied for this policy. It is notable that news media bosses were in the audience.
Interestingly, Cisco, the company which makes the equipment that will implement the technical measures (equipment which it sold to the Chinese government), was one of the handful of IT companies represented in that audience.
Sources close to the UK government have dismissed Ben Bradshaw's evidence to the Select Committee, saying that Mandelson's proposals were the policy. This raises a concern because surely a Secretary of State giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee must carry weight and should not be so summarily dismissed.
However, opposition is growing. Tom Watson MP who led the questioning on P2P measures, is asking MPs to sign an Early Day Motion calling on the government to ensure that a court order is needed before users' Internet access can be cut. It currently has 44 signatures. An early day motion is a non-legislative positioning statement. Mr Watson's Early Day Motion can be considered similar to the Bono report vote in the European Parliament on April 9 2008.
Another UK Parliament committee, the All Party Parliamentary Communications Group , said in a report released at the beginning of October, that the disconnection policy was inconsistent with the policy to promote e-government. It called on Lord Mandelson to put a stop to the P2P proposals, and run a new consultation after the EU Telecoms Package has been decided.
Further opposition to the UK government's P2P proposals came this week from Carphone Warehouse, set up by the entrepreneur Charles Dunstone, which said it would mount a legal challenge against the government. And it is financing a protest campaign Don't disconnect us .
Even the very weak (and poorly written) Intellectual Property Office report , which does support Mandelson's proposals, sets out a discussion about ways to make copyright fairer in the digital age.
Under these circumstances, it begs the question why the UK government is taking such a hard line in respect of the EU Telecoms Package. The UK is leading the Council's opposition to Amendment 138 and the principles of open access to the Internet enshrined in it.
Conclusions from the UK Parliament's APCOMMS report on net neutrality, copyright enforcement and the EU Telecoms Package:
212. From the evidence we have received we are persuaded that in the UK, at present,
"network neutrality" is being delivered by market mechanisms. However, we also
believe that the evidence shows that this situation could change. Therefore, we
recommend that Ofcom keep the issue of "network neutrality" under review and
include a section in each annual report that indicates whether there are any signs
58. We conclude that much of the problem with illegal sharing of copyrighted material
has been caused by the rightsholders, and the music industry in particular, being
far too slow in getting their act together and making popular legal alternatives
59. We do not believe that disconnecting end users is in the slightest bit consistent with
policies that attempt to promote eGovernment, and we recommend that this
approach to dealing with illegal file-sharing should not be further considered.
60. We think that it is inappropriate to make policy choices in the UK when policy
options are still to be agreed by the EU Commission and EU Parliament in their
negotiations over the "Telecoms Package". We recommend that the Government
terminate their current policy-making process, and restart it with a new
consultation once the EU has made its decisions.
* The Ben Bradshaw webcast works better in RealPlayer.
**The matter of what a Tier 1 Tribunal is, was raised briefly by Tom Watson. It is defined under UK Tribunal Procedure Rules 2009 and appears to be an administrative alternative to a court for handling disputes and appeals. ( I say appears because I have not analysed in any detail what these rules might entail in respect of copyright enforcement).
***To see how it proposed to calculate it, see the Digital Britain reports, and then ask someone who understands market research statistics to tell you how it will operate!!!
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2009) UK discord on P2P anti-filesharing policy http://www.iptegrity.com 30 October 2009.