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Digital proposals could politicise action, warns PA
26.08.09 | Catherine Neilan
The new proposals on how to deal with copyright infringement, put forward by the government yesterday (25th August), could end up politicising any future action, the Publishers Association has warned.
The government is proposing a tougher stance to that outlined in the Digital Britain report, released earlier this year, which could include cutting off repeat offenders from the net, with the decision to be taken by the secretary of state rather than watchdog Ofcom.
The PA said it was broadly supportive of the new measures, but there were concerns over the decision to cede power to target illegal downloaders from Ofcom. Benjamin King, head of policy and communications at the PA, said he welcomed the decision to speed up the ability to take action against offenders by allowing the secretary of state in charge to “short-cut” a decision and implement it immediately. But he added concerns over making it “a political decision, in what is potentially a very uncertain political climate”.
He explained: “By the time this legislation goes through, it’s highly likely we will have a Tory government, and a secretary of state who is perhaps politically motivated in another direction to the current one. Enforcing this [measure] will always be unpopular with the electorate.”
In response to the announcement, which King said was “not unforeseen”, the PA will recommend that Ofcom and the government have joint power to make the decision “so it’s down to whoever decides sooner”. Other associations representing creative industries are expected to take a similar line.
Another new measure recommended is the temporary suspension of internet accounts for repeat offenders. King described this as “a significant step forward”. He said: “This is a simple and proportionate measure, which could be easily activated by an ISP. We think it’s particularly important for the publishing sector, because the size of the files are so small, other suggestions such as reducing bandwidth would not be much of a deterrent.”
He acknowledged this was a contentious measure, but stressed it would only be used as a “measure of last resort”.
As expected, internet service providers (ISPs) have reacted with anger to new proposals on how to tackle internet piracy, warning that persuasion rather than coercion was a better strategy. UK ISP TalkTalk told BBC Online that the recommendations were likely to "breach fundamental rights" and would not work.
King said he was hopeful the government would listen to the responses the PA was planning to make as part of the consultation, which closes 29th September. “There seems to be increasing political will towards this issue . . . it’s indicative of the message the industries are getting across about the threat piracy poses to jobs, sustainability of high-quality content, and so on.”
On announcing the new recommendations, Stephen Timms, minister for Digital Britain, said: “We’ve been listening carefully to responses to the consultation this far, and it’s become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders. So we look forward to hearing views on our new ideas, which along with those already received, will help us determine the best way to tackle this complex challenge."
The Digital Economy Bill is expected to be a main topic mentioned in the Queen’s Speech this autumn.