Well it’s official: yesterday (Wednesday) the UK government announced its intention to pass a law that will sever the internet connections of anyone suspected of illegally sharing files.
Through the medium of the “Queen’s Speech” (an archaic tradition by which the Queen announces the government’s legislative plans for the coming year) it was revealed that file-sharers’ broadband links will be disconnected without trial.
As the current government’s term is nearing its end, there’s a chance that they may run out of time before the “Digital Economy” bill is passed. But it doesn’t really matter: the opposition Conservative party supports this proposal too. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise: both the Tories and Labour have long been in love with big business. This proposed law is a sop to the music and film industries, who claim that “copyright theft” costs them hundreds of millions of pounds a year – they claim that they lost £486 million in 2007, and that an estimated 6.5 million Brits illegally downloaded music and films last year. Of course that’s nonsense: their calculations are based on the lie that every album or movie illegally downloaded represents a direct loss of revenue, completely ignoring the fact that most file-sharers would not have bought the records or videos they downloaded. But the industry can’t let the truth get in the way.
The government refuses to admit that innocent people may fall foul of the new law, despite the fact that wireless networks can be used by unauthorized downloaders and that multi-occupancy residences can contain more than one computer using the same IP address. I’m interested to see how the rights-owners or ISPs will be able to identify which downloads are illegal. Peer-to-peer protocols like bittorrent are used extensively for perfectly above-board downloads too. There’s been mention of using “phishing” techniques and “honeypot sites” to detect illegal transactions; hopefully this will all become clearer soon.
Many commentators believe that the film and music industries are just using file-sharers as scapegoats for their falling profits. Content providers need to come up with new business models that accommodate consumers’ changing habits.
Mark Schmid, from TalkTalk, said: “There’s been a real split among content owners when it comes to readjusting to the new digital landscape. Some – such as computer games companies – have been clever and come up with innovative ways to discourage piracy and maintain customer loyalty, for instance through adding extra levels to computer games that you only get if you’ve bought the product. But other content sectors – most notably the music industry – have failed to innovate and have blamed the internet for spoiling their old ways of doing business. We think this is extremely complacent. The internet is now a fact of life and we believe new business models need to be introduced if they want to survive and thrive in the digital world.”
Illegal downloading is not responsible for the film industry’s woes. Today’s widely-available fast broadband connections have made online streaming much more popular. There are legal free services, like BBC iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4OD service, and the US-based Hulu (set to come to Britain in 2010). And there are a great many ad-supported streaming sites like Youku and Megavideo. The film and TV content providers need to change their business model. But why should they, when governments are willing to make us reward their ineptitude?
Watch out, world: it’s happening in the UK now, and in France; but soon it’ll be in the USA, Australia, the rest of Europe… hell, everywhere. No one’s safe from the internet police.
If you don’t want this crazy plan to become law, you need to act!! Visit the Open Rights Group web site to learn how you can help campaign against the internet disconnection bill!
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