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Government rules out file-sharer disconnections

In response to an e-petition, the prime minister's office has said disconnecting people for unlawful P2P activity would be disproportionate
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

The government has ruled out terminating the broadband accounts of people who file-share copyrighted material online.

In a response to a petition on the Number 10 website, the prime minister's office said the government "will not terminate the accounts of infringers [as] it is very hard to see how this could be deemed proportionate except in the most extreme — and therefore probably criminal — cases".

The petition, which closed on 8 October, 2009, referred to the Digital Economy Bill, petitioning the prime minister to "abandon Lord Mandelson's plans to ban individuals from the internet based on their use of 'peer to peer' file sharing".

The Digital Economy Bill has many aspects, a major one of which is a crackdown on unlawful file-sharing that includes potential sanctions such as bandwidth throttling and account suspension. It is currently wending its way through the House of Lords's approval process before going to parliamentarians for further scrutiny.

The bill does not specifically mention account termination, but is sufficiently vague on its definition of 'suspension' for the UK's Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) to have called for further clarification on the matter.

Earlier in February, the JCHR called on the government to explain whether suspected file-sharers of copyrighted material could be indefinitely suspended, and whether suspended people would be barred from getting internet access from alternative services.

The petition to which the prime minister's office responded collected 550 signatures — far fewer than the 33,261 signatures accumulated by ISP TalkTalk's similar petition, which called on the government to "abolish the proposed law that will see alleged illegal file-sharers disconnected from their broadband connections, without a fair trial".

TalkTalk's petition will close to further signatures in October — quite possibly after the bill has been passed into law — and has as such not been responded to yet.

In its response to the smaller petition, the prime minister's office pointed out that "the way in which cases of alleged copyright infringement are discovered involves identifying material offered to other users for download in breach of copyright, rather than any monitoring of an individual's internet account for downloads".

"The process identifies the IP address of an uploader (under the legislation, making material available for copying is a breach of copyright) using publicly available information, and does not look at what an individual downloads," the response read.

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