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Digital Britain Interim Report – MusicTank

Digital Britain Interim Report

29 Jan 2009

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The government’s long-awaited interim Digital Britain report has just been released [29.01.09].  It’s a lengthy document that lays out UK thinking about universal broadband, spectrum reform, and digital radio, but nestled right in the middle of the report is one of the most controversial ideas: a mandatory “code” for ISPs to follow, and the creation of a government “Rights Agency” to help stakeholders deal with the issue of civil copyright infringement online.

Right now, the UK has only a (non-governmental) Memorandum of Understanding in place between ISPs and the music business.  When ISPs are notified of the IP address of alleged infringers, they look up the account involved and pass a warning message to the subscriber.  There are no additional sanctions at this time.

Under the proposed scheme, the government would legislate a “Code on unlawful file-sharing” that ISPs would have to follow.  The report appears to suggest that this would mostly involve notifications, though additional sanctions could be added.  The Code doesn’t simply force ISPs to start passing on notices, though; it will also cover “appeals and standards of evidence,” along with the delicate issue of who pays for this. (Disconnection without court order appears not to be an option at this time, in line with previous comments from government officials.)

The news of an institutionalized appeals process is certainly welcome; the recent (and voluntary) agreement by Ireland’s Eircom appears to lack any such process, and that company is even willing to disconnect ‘Net users after three strikes. The UK is taking a far more deliberate path under government auspices. As the new report notes, this is “new and difficult territory, and we want to get it right.”

Why should ISPs be involved at all? Aren’t they merely dumb pipes? The report makes the case that everyone from ISPs to the music business to consumers benefit from a robust digital economy. “If we expect the whole value chain to benefit from new ways legitimate content can be accessed and consumed then it is reasonable to expect the whole value chain to work together to tackle unlawful activity,” says the report.

Source: Nate Anderson, Ars Technica