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October 30, 2009

Online Piracy: Music And Film Providers Fight Back To The Future

In a spin-off to the ongoing saga to restrict access to newspaper publishing on the web, Lord Mandelson, the British business secretary, set April 2011 as the start date in a campaign to block and criminalise illegal online filesharing in the UK.

In all honesty, it is fair enough that people should pay for what they watch, listen to and read, and Rupert Murdoch (newspaper magnate) has already launched a scathing attack on the BBC for providing free news on the internet. Now, in a recent development, Lord Mandelson has given notice in a speech at the British government’s digital creative industries conference, that digital downloaders, who are considered persistent offenders, could be shut down and face criminal charges with fines of up to £50,000.

A report published in June of this year, Digital Britain, covered areas including illegal filesharing. The report itself did not lay out precisely what legislation was required but the British government has called for a massive 70% reduction in online piracy by April 2012. Following that, it proposes a more draconian law would be introduced, saying the government would be launching a massive crackdown on illegal internet filesharing.

Mr Mandelson has unveiled the British government’s campaign against digital piracy, which will apparently start with warning letters. Should downloaders persist beyond the first three, it would lead to the government blocking their internet access with the option of hefty fines, including parents if their wayward children’s online activities are deemed to include illegal online piracy.

This three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy is the British government’s latest offering in its digital economy bill due to be passed in April next year, with the strategy of “legislate and enforce” to protect content providers’ intellectual property rights.

The Guardian’s technology section quoted Mr Mandelson as saying: “It must become clear that the days of consequence-free widespread online infringement are over. Technical measures will be a last resort and I have no expectation of mass suspensions resulting.”

The piece then went on to further quote him as saying: “Persistent illegal filesharers will be monitored for the first 12 months. If illegal filesharing has not dropped by 70% by April 2011, then cutting off people’s internet connections could be introduced three months later, from the summer of that year.”

It looks as if Lord Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, is adding Internet to his long-tail portfolio and is now toughing it out with the nation’s filesharers with this draconian plan for those suspected of online piracy.

But, according to “If fines of £50,000 are ever levied for illegal filesharing then the likelihood of people going to prison for non-payment seems high. Who has £50,000 lying around and potentially parents could be served the fine if their children are underage. Suspension of an internet account would also seem to go against the whole idea of Digital Britain, which is to get people online and encourage those who’ve never used the internet…”

It may not have been Rupert Murdoch’s blistering attacks on the BBC after all then, as it was reported in the Daily Mail, an English anti-Labour government newspaper, although later denied by a spokesman, that: “Lord Mandelson ordered officials to draw up the draconian regulations days after dinner with David Geffen, who founded the Asylum record label which signed Bob Dylan. The pair dined on 7 August at the Rothschild family villa on Corfu, while Mandelson was holidaying on the Greek island.”

Critics have described this impending legislation as a “gross attack on civil liberties”, and that the proposals for tackling illegal filesharing are far too harsh, with a very real risk of derailing Digital Britain. However, it can safely be assumed that hardcore pirates will simply find other ways of downloading material, employing electronic cloak-and-dagger tactics to get music and film into the UK and on to their laptops.

With newspapers going behind paywalls next month, the sword of Damocles now hangs over free online music and film, as the business secretary cum digital overlord plans, according to the Daily Mail, to “criminalise an estimated seven million people in the UK who regularly but illicitly download music and film”.

In the same article and in a related development, the Daily Mail reported that the Pirate Party, which won a Swedish European Parliament seat in June on a platform of legal filesharing, announced it would be standing in the general election.

It is going to be a very interesting digital soap opera to observe.

John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build ( and an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.