Six of the UK's biggest ISPs have caved-in to music and movie industry pressure and have undertaken to define and adopt a 'code' in an effort to reduce copyright-breaking file sharing.
But there are clear signs that ISPs haven't just been steamrollered. The agreement, announced today by the UK government, involves carrots as well as sticks, with the Brown administration promising to come up with a draft bill on the issue and to foster a general agreement that will see ISPs and content owners develop 'legal' file sharing services.
In other words ISPs will get to share the spoils of any revenue-generating services that are now developed in return for policing the 'legal' file sharing boundaries. Or, as we prefer to characterise it, 'You hold them down, I'll remove their wallets'.
This is exactly the development that libertarians have been warning about in the run-up to the passage of the telecoms package (see - European telecom package supporters answer back). That particular European Parliament legislation (to be debated and voted upon in September) clears the way for national governments to introduce legislation that would compel ISPs to do a bit of illegal file sharing of their own.
Under the proposed rule changes ISPs would be obliged to share information about 'illegal' file-sharing behaviour and would also be obliged to warn and police their own users under threat of a law suit from content owners.
This is a huge change to the established relationships between user, ISP and content owner, since it breaches the Internet's essential privacy and neutrality principles.
On privacy, the breach is obvious. ISPs would be breaking their obligations to their own users and sharing information about their addresses and their on-line behaviour. Hypocrisy or just rolling-over and playing-dead to the order of the big boys?
The threat to neutrality is just as insidious though less obvious. In the case of the UK an immediate conflict of interest is created by ISPs ' policing role and their ability to tap new revenues through the offer of an alternative on-line service (an opportunity itself created by the policing). Neutral indeed!
In fact the proposed UK arrangements, typically, raise more questions that they answer. On the face of it this looks a lot like a typical British fudge - our national dish.
On the one hand the UK ISPs are signing up for a vague 'new settlement' that will involve sanctions of some unspecified kind, such as speed-throttling, content filtering and so on - all far in the future and 'to be decided after consultation'. So there's no point in arguing about or debating that now then?
At the same time all the participants have been given ample wriggle-room. ISPs are able self-righteously and adamantly to claim that they are in no way going to introduce a '3 strikes' law. The idea is to make the settlement look like a sensible compromise. In fact a '3 strikes' law with disconnection at the end of it is probably unacceptable in the UK in any case and most of the parties (though by no means all) seem to recognise this.
The fudge is around what sanctions are to be applied if the dreaded "naughty, naughty, slapped legs all round" letter doesn't work. Once something specific like site blocking is mooted it will soon become apparent that there are a slew of 'problems' around correctly identifying the 'who', 'where' and 'when' of the supposed offence. This alone is a can of worms bigger even than the Guiness Book of Records,' record-breaking can of worms.
And so it will be with all the measures that are proposed as the consultation proceeds.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about today's announcement is the assumption that the Internet is under the collective ownership of ISPs.
ISPs do NOT own the Internet (they are merely there because users need them - at least, at this particular moment in the development of the world wide web) and they have no right to give away users' rights in this way.
Users though DO OWN the Internet, the ISPs are (legally) 'mere conduits' and if yours (as a telecoms professional, you are still an individual internet user) is not being 'conductive' in a neutral and open way then we urge you to ditch it and find one that is. There are plenty out there, not well known maybe, but also not poodles and lapdogs to the vested pecuniary interests of the likes of the global music industry and Hollywood studios.
TelecomTV is proud to announce that it is launching a campaign (planned well in advance of today's UK announcement we might add) to fight these measures on a Europe-wide basis. The first leg of our campaign concentrates on the European Parliament's Telecoms Package and will kick-off this Friday.
Please watch, read and give your support.
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