UK ISPs reassured over 'royalty tariff' claim

The UK should be safe from the fallout from a Canadian court case that could see ISPs pay a 'royalty tariff' from their profits, thanks to European law

As a critical court case gets underway in Canada this week in which a songwriters association will attempt to extract royalties from ISPs for what it says is illegal music downloads, UK ISPs have been reassured they are safe from such threats over here.

On Wednesday, the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) will be making its case to the Canadian Supreme Court. The organisation is attempting to make ISPs hand over 10 percent of their annual profits on top of a blanket charge of 25 cents per user per year, in order to pay for illegally downloaded music.

The UK's Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) says the judgement will not affect UK ISPs because the EU E-Commerce Directive, which was passed around two years ago, means that ISPs here are a "mere conduit of information" and not held responsible for the content they transport. However, an ISPA spokesman told ZDNet UK that music artists and other rights holders should be trying to improve their relationship with ISPs and Internet users instead of waging a legal war.

"There are many kinds of content that are charged for and ISPA would like to see rights holders like the film and music industry embracing the Internet and the opportunities it offers in order to sell their wares," said the spokesman, who cited MSN's music club and Apple's iTunes as examples that should be followed. "The Rolling Stones have embraced the Internet as a way to disseminate their music and there are ways the music industry can invest in to make music available via the Internet," he added.

On 3 December, SOCAN will appear before the Canadian Supreme Court to argue its case for the proposed charge, which has been labelled Tariff 22. If the royalty tariff is implemented it is expected to result in Internet users paying significantly more for a slower Internet service.

Unlike Europe, the Federal Court in Canada has ruled that because ISP use caching technologies to speed up content delivery, they should be held responsible for any illegal files held on their cache servers. This decision was made despite the Copyright Board of Canada arguing that ISPs simply provide the delivery infrastructure for music downloads, so like telephone companies, they should not have to answer for their users' actions.

Canadian news site CTV reports that the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) expects Internet users will have to pay more for a slower service, should the judgement go in favour of SOCAN. Jay Thomson, president of CAIP said: "Consumers could very well see an increase in their Internet costs and they could see a slowdown in the transmission speed of their Internet communications."

According to CTV, a favourable ruling will result in SOCAN receiving "several million Canadian dollars a year", which is in addition to the money it already receives from radio stations that play music written by its members. In 2002, that figure was C$32m.