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Digital Economy Bill: Industry disputes gov't claims

ISPs are fiercely contesting government claims that they support the Digital Economy Bill's anti-copyright-infringement measures, while Telnic has warned of official threats to Icann's authority
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

ISPs have strongly disagreed with government claims that they back the anti-copyright-infringement measures proposed in the Digital Economy Bill, and UK-based registries have expressed outrage at the idea of the government seizing control of domain-name registration.

The bill, unveiled on Friday, would make it possible to have persistent file-sharers of copyrighted material disconnected from the internet. It would also allow the government to take over the allocation and registration of domain names by UK-based registries.

In a Friday morning briefing, Stephen Timms, the minister heading up the bill's passage into law, said: "If you look at the ISPs who serve the great majority of the UK... there is a reasonable measure of acceptance of the way we are proposing to do it.... I think BT is comfortable with what we're proposing."

Shortly afterwards, the ISP Association (ISPA), which represents UK ISPs, issued a statement saying it "strongly opposes" the measures proposed by the government — measures, such as repeatedly notifying users that they are suspected of sharing copyrighted material, that ISPs would have to fund.

"ISPA members are extremely concerned that the bill, far from strengthening the nation's communications infrastructure, will penalise the success of the internet industry and undermine the backbone of the digital economy," the industry group said.

Nicholas Lansman, ISPA's general secretary, said in the statement that the government's proposals were "being fast-tracked... and will do little to address the underlying problem".

"Rather than focusing blindly on enforcement, the government should be asking rights holders to reform the licensing framework so that legal content can be distributed online to consumers in a way that they are clearly demanding," Lansman said.

ISPA said it supported the notification system, but rejected the idea that it had to pay for any of it, saying rights holders should "shoulder this burden including reimbursement of ISPs' reasonable costs ". ISPs "should not incur costs for pursuing alleged civil infringements," ISPA said.

BT, which Timms said at Friday's briefing was "comfortable" with the government's proposals, said it had "real concerns about the government's plans and the lack of legal protections for accused individuals".

In a statement on Friday, BT said: "We believe that technical measures are not the way forward and that a system of court fines for repeat infringers is preferable."

Another part of the Digital Economy Bill covers the UK domain-name registry system. The bill would allow the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, to appoint anyone he "thinks appropriate" to take over the property and affairs of a UK-based internet domain registry.

There are two domain registries based in the UK — one is Nominet, which administers .uk; the other is Telnic, which administers .tel.

An official summary of the Digital Economy Bill indicates that the government's proposed changes are mainly inspired by .uk — according to the government, abusive practices such as cybersquatting, drop-catching (where a recently expired domain name is automatically snapped up) and phishing have been reported in connection with this top-level domain (TLD).

The summary also noted "disruptions at board level at Nominet", and questioned Nominet's ability to self-regulate effectively. Therefore, according to the summary, the government is "proposing to take reserve powers which could be used to enable it, in certain circumstances, to regulate the allocation and registration of domain names by registries established within the UK's jurisdiction".

Nominet subsequently issued a statement, saying it believed "the reserve powers set out in the Digital Economy Bill will not be needed and that together with our membership Nominet will be able to introduce the constitutional reforms needed to allow .uk to continue to be operated responsibly and in the public interest".

The other UK-based registry, Telnic, said the government had notified it — informally — of its plans one week ago.

"Telnic is dismayed at this proposal," the registry said on Friday. "In it, the UK government proposes giving itself the power to dismiss and replace the management board of any registry operating in the UK." Telnic pointed out that the wording of the proposed changes will affect its TLD, .tel, which is regulated — as with all non-country-specific TLDs — by Icann.

The registry noted that Icann has only just gained independence from the US government "precisely because there was concern internationally about any one government having actual or perceived control over the domain name space".

"As currently phrased, this bill may be misunderstood as an attempt by the UK government to overrule Icann's authority, without any attempt to canvas the views of the industry such a move would affect," Telnic said.

Icann was not able to offer comment at the time of writing.

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