UK looks again at s92A-style disconnection

Disconnection is back on the UK agenda as New Zealand considers its options

The UK government has modified its stance on suspending the internet accounts of repeat illicit downloaders of copyright content, putting disconnection back on the table with other anti-piracy measures.

In a progress report on its plans to legislate to regulate peer-to-peer file-trading, the UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) says: “we are considering the case for adding into the list of technical measures the power, as a last resort, to suspend a subscriber’s account.”

An equivalent measure initially included in New Zealand’s Copyright Act Section 92A sparked widespread objection. This and other perceived problems led to the section’s withdrawal and reconsideration. Representatives of copyright owners are still pushing strongly here for account termination as an ultimate penalty.

The UK department’s original proposal for a repertoire of deterrent and punitive measures lists six technical measures that telecommunications regulator Ofcom “might require ISPs to impose on repeat infringers”.

These include slowing the offender’s broadband connection, but earlier this year a BIS spokeswoman, in an email to Computerworld, confirmed that contemplated measures did not include termination of internet accounts.

“Since the issue of the consultation some stakeholders have argued strongly that none of [the suggested] technical measures is powerful enough to have a significant deterrent effect on infringing behaviour,” says the latest BIS report.

“Also we cannot know how P2P technology might develop in the short to medium term, and we want to ensure that Ofcom has a full tool-kit from which to select the most appropriate measure should technical measures be deemed necessary. Taking those points into account, although we continue to regard the uptake and use of internet services as essential to a digital Britain, we are considering the case for adding suspension of accounts into the list of measures that could be imposed.

“This does not necessarily mean that suspension would be used,” the report continues, ”this step would obviously be a very serious sanction as it would affect all members of a household equally, and might disrupt access to other communications, so it should be regarded as very much a last resort.”

BIS has extended the deadline for comment on its proposals by two weeks, to September 29 to allow consideration of the new suggestion.

The department also asks for feedback on the apportionment of the costs of any action, a question also being considered in New Zealand. It has suggested that costs be split equally between the copyright owner and the ISP.

In its original consultation document, issued in June, BIS raises the question of whether the choice of legally downloadble content is adequate. Ofcom, it says, should consider “the extent to which content owners and service providers are actively providing options which offer a real consumer benefit to move people away from unlawful activity.”

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