British Government Threatens to Pull the Plug on Downloaders

Dennis Faas's picture

The British government is considering plans to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to cut off any users who illegally downloading files. They are looking at a range of possible systems to force ISPs to stop customers downloading; the most likely to become law is a three-strike system under which ISPs will email warnings to customers they suspect of downloading movies or music without the copyright holder's permission.

If the customer continues to do so, they'll face a suspension. A third offence will see their account cancelled. Internet firms which refuse or otherwise fail to enforce the policy will face prosecution.

The precise proposals will follow in a consultation paper in a couple of months. However, the government is making a firm commitment in a green paper (a formal policy proposal) to be published next week. It says, "We will move to legislate to require Internet service providers to take action on illegal file-sharing." (Source:

Not surprisingly, music and movie producers are backing the plans, while Internet firms remain sceptical. The Internet Service Providers Association said its members "are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the Post Office is able to open every envelope. (Source:

Four of the largest British ISPs have spent the last six months trying to reach an agreement in hopes of escaping such legislation. It's thought their main sticking point is how to deal with customers who claim their Internet connection has been 'piggybacked' -- that is, used by leaching neighbours via open/unprotected wireless connection. (Source:

The plans are similar to proposals made by the French government last November. While nobody is denying that online piracy is a significant problem, many believe this tactic will be ineffective.

It's extremely difficult for ISPs to monitor what people are downloading, particularly if the files are encrypted or downloaded through torrent sites (where files are split into hundreds of pieces). Forcing ISPs to snoop in this way raises serious privacy concerns.

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