The UK’s two biggest ISPs, BT and Talk Talk, have lost their appeal over the controversial measures forced upon them by the Digital Economy Act against online copyright infringement.
The Act, which was forced through parliament at the end of the last Labour government with little discussion over terms that put the commercial interests of the copyright industries above the personal freedoms of British citizens, will mean that ISPs will have to start sending out warning letters to potential infringers, and possibly cut them off from the internet completely.
The UN has judged internet access to be along the lines of a basic human right, and cutting off users for downloading a couple of movies without paying is a punishment far outweighing the crime. If a person steals a DVD from a high street shop and then escapes by running down the street, they are not banned from walking along every street in the world – they are punished by either a warning, a fine, or brief imprisonment for their crime. And that crime is theft, as it actually deprives the shop of a DVD, whereas copyright infringement merely copies a product, leaving the original in tact and available to sell. Cutting off someone’s access to the internet in 2012 is basically cutting off their ability to function in our society as they would be unable to find work as most applications are done via email or through company websites, as well as being unable to purchase the same goods as available to the rest of the populations, or even to interact with their friends.
But even ignoring the moral and human right issues, the Digital Economy Act proposes laws that are utterly unworkable in any real sense. There is no way that the police or anyone else can prevent people from getting online, with the internet available on smartphones, tablets, and internet cafes around the country, and so any “ban” could only go so far as preventing a person from having broadband to their house (which also amounts collective punishment for the family or housemates living there).
There have been numerous occasions of those proposing these draconian laws being found to be using copyrighted photographs on their websites or in their leaflets, as well as unlicensed fonts in their designs, and often unattributed open source code in their products. If these three strikes laws ever come to fruition and are enacted fairly against everyone, there may be numerous individuals being cut off from the internet, but numerous company websites being taken down as well – the Daily Mail Online comes to mind specifically, although almost every company has missed some licensing at some point, normally accidentally but that doesn’t matter under the Act.
There are two interesting things to have come out of today’s judical review as noted by Slightly Right of Centre, however: how the ISPs will fight next; and how the costs of contacting and cutting off infringers will be divided.
- The ISPs look to be changing tack to fight the Digital Economy Act Initial Obligations Code when it’s published, rather than try and appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court
- As ISPs are protected from being forced to pay “administrative charges” imposed by governments under EU law, and all costs related to setting up the OFCOM body to monitor the implementation of the Act and any case fees are just such administrative charges, then 100% of the bill is going to have to be footed by the copyright industries – not something they had bargained for.