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UK ISPs Balk at Unplugging P2P Pirates
February 14, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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Yesterday, the UK Times Online reported that the British government would consider enacting a law requiring ISPs to "disconnect" habitual P2P pirates. The entertainment industry wants a "three strikes" policy, where the end user would be permanently disconnected from his or her ISP after the third warning. Reaction has so far been ho-hum, as the file-sharing community sees this as just yet another attempt bound for failure.

The reaction from the UK ISPs has followed along a similar line as well. The ISPA (Internet Service Provider Association), a trade group which represents the interests of UK ISPs, released a statement which balks at the idea of filtering or blocking alleged P2P pirates. Much like their American counterparts, UK ISPs are immune from any civil and or criminal impropriety that may transpire across their networks.

The ISPA admits, however, they currently are in talks with the entertainment industry, particularly the MPAA, on the issue of disconnecting alleged pirates. Initially, the ISPA appears sympathetic to the entertainment industry's cause.

"Some people are using peer-to-peer applications to copy or distribute files including copyrighted material such as music, films and software without paying royalties. People who do this may be infringing the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. ISPA UK is currently in talks with the Motion Picture Association of America and liaises with Government on this issue."

Sympathy can only go so far. The ISPA stress that the Electronic Commerce Regulation of 2002 protects their members from such contentious issues like copyright infringement. As a "mere conduit" of information, UK ISPs cannot be held liable to enforce intellectual property rights.

"Where an information society service is provided which consists of the transmission in a communication network of information provided by a recipient of the service or the provision of access to a communication network, the service provider (if he otherwise would) shall not be liable for damages or for any other pecuniary remedy or for any criminal sanction as a result of that transmission where the service provider -

(a) did not initiate the transmission;

(b) did not select the receiver of the transmission; and

(c) did not select or modify the information contained in the transmission."

Like US ISPs, their UK counterparts are immune from liability for "caching" as well. For example, some ISPs provide P2P caching services, which store the most popular file-sharing search requests on a server. By keeping popular search requests stored on the ISP's network, costs are held to a minimum. This benefits both the end user and the ISP, as the requested file is transferred to the end user efficiently and with minimum bandwidth requirements.

"ISPs bear no liability for illegal file sharing as the content is not hosted on their servers," the ISPA states. "Although such files may be transmitted across an ISP’s network, ISPs are ‘mere conduits’ of information, as per the E-Commerce Regulations 2002."

Finally, the ISPA moves into the nitty gritty - the impossibility of disconnecting users. Try to imagine the massive amounts of information transmitting across the Internet at any given moment. Billions of pieces of information traveling at the speed of light, and that's just on P2P and file-sharing networks. Now, P2P networks hardly ever transmit just a single, identifiable file any more. BitTorrent, for example, breaks the file into thousands of tiny pieces for distribution purposes. Each segment is unidentifiable as copyrighted work, especially if its encrypted. The ISPs know this, network administrators know this, and one day, maybe the entertainment industry will know this.

"ISPA does not support abuses of copyright and intellectual property theft. However ISPs cannot monitor or record the type of information passed over their network. ISPs 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. ISPs deal with many more packets of data each day than postal services and data protection legislation actually prevents ISPs from looking at the content of the packets sent."

The important item to remember is that the UK government is very far from enacting or even entertaining such a law. It is currently a "Green Paper" item, which means that all arguments will be given consideration within 6 months. This wont be a cakewalk for the entertainment industry, as the ISPA is confident in its position.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: International
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: Copyright Issues

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