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Illegal film and TV downloaders could lose their links to the web


December 27, 2007
From The Times

Internet users who download pirate films or television series could soon see their service suspended as political pressure grows on broadband service providers to stop illegal downloads.

The Government has given notice of its concern at the “huge cumulative effect” of illegal downloads and called on internet service providers (ISPs) to examine ways to reverse the trend.

MPs are also calling for the use of camcorders in cinemas to be made a criminal rather than a civil offence, as nine out of ten pirate films first appear in the market as a camcorded copy.

ISPs are to be brought to negotiations in the new year over plans by film companies to suspend the service of those who break the law.

The UK Film Council estimates that film piracy cost the industry more than £800 million in 2005. Shrek 2 and Star Wars: the Revenge of the Sithwere both available through file-sharing networks before their cinematic release. Several of this year’s Oscar contenders, including Atonement, The Kite Runner and I Am Legend, have also appeared illegally online.

The first episode of the revived Doctor Who was downloaded by tens of thousands of fans from file-sharing websites before it was shown on television, according to a report by MPs.

Until now, broadband companies have been deeply reluctant to step in, arguing that it is impractical to monitor the activities of users and would infringe privacy. “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,” insists ISPA, the industry association.

However, this argument has been undermined by developments in France, where an industry initiative backed by President Sarkozy could result in internet subscribers who download music, films and other content without paying for them being banned from having access to the web.

Denis Olivennes, the chairman of Fnac, the DVD retailer, who conducted a review for the French Government, called for a “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” policy for individuals found guilty of internet piracy. He argued that ISPs are culpable because they encourage subscribers to take advantage of the amount of free material on the web.

In Britain, pressure is growing on ISPs from a powerful cross-party committee of MPs on the Culture Select Committee, who argue that ISPs have accepted in principle that access to unlicensed material should be restricted. In a report on the creative industries, MPs said: “It may be impractical for such businesses to be made legally liable for providing access to certain material, but we believe strongly that the industry should do more to discourage piracy.”

The Government welcomed the MPs’ report and called on ISPs and film companies to work together.

Some broadband companies have indicated that they are willing to enter negotiations. A spokesman for Virgin Media said: “As a responsible ISP, Virgin Media would always openly negotiate with any interested party or governing body such as Ofcom.” He added that a precedent for monitoring users had already been set.

A spokesman for BT said as copyright infringement is a civil, not a criminal, offenceit is “a matter for the rights holders and not for the ISPs”. 

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