Brit business secretary promises to punish accused file-sharers' families with Internet disconnection by 2011

Lord Mandelson, Britain's business secretary, has promised to create a system of collective punishment without judicial review for people accused -- but not convicted -- of illegal file-sharing. Under Mandelson's proposal, anyone living in the same house as someone who has been accused of three acts of infringement will be denied access to the Internet (at the expense of their education, employment, and access to government, health information, distant relatives, etc) even though no judge has reviewed any evidence or wrongdoing, let alone entering a judgement.

Hilariously, Mandelson expects that this will work to reduce file-sharing. Similar measures -- removing websites without judicial oversight, mass lawsuits, even industry-wide prohibitions on whole classes of legitimate technology -- have totally failed to reduce infringement in the 14 years since the first WIPO Copyright Treaty. Indeed, these increasingly Draconian measures have merely deepened the alienation that the public feels from copyright -- to the detriment of all rightsholders.

But, for unspecified reasons, Mandelson believes that cutting whole families off from the information society on the strength of unsubstantiated accusations will cause them to embrace the copyright industries and buy their products.

"It must become clear that the days of consequence-free widespread online infringement are over," Mandelson said. "Technical measures will be a last resort and I have no expectation of mass suspensions resulting."

The legislation is expected to come into force in April next year.

The effectiveness of the warning letters to 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.

Lord Mandelson sets date for blocking filesharers' internet connections (Thanks, Brady!)


  1. Odd how the country of the Magna Carta has turned into a country where surveillance of citizens by the authorities has become the norm and where non-judicial punishment is extended from the individual to the collectivity. So much for individual rights…

  2. This is another example of how the House of Lords went to hell after Tony Blair mucked around with it. It was hardly more than ten years ago that Christopher Guest was booted out from his inherited position in the mother of parliaments. And it’s obviously been downhill from there.

  3. So why not drive to the Lord’s several homes, locate the wifi APs, and start up some torrents? I’m sure they’ll have a hotline for reporting abuse. Just go guerrilla and use their own tools against them. Rinse-repeat for all supporters of this idiocy.

  4. What does it take to make a claim copyright infringement? Would it be possible to set up a couple of organizations, hold some silly IP, and then go out and accuse all the people who are pro these laws of infringement (without evidence of course), just to make it very, very clear to them what the problem is?

    1. @tbr, I’m waiting for some MC on some public occasion taking three complaints from the audience, then disconnecting their microphone.

      “Well, if you declare under oath that you haven’t violated these people’s copyrights, we’ll put you back on today’s program within 14 working days.”

  5. What a great idea for punishment of irresponsible use of a medium. They should do this right after they punish telemarketers by taking away their home and business phones whenever anyone complains. And mail fraud, that should be punished by rerouting all mail to or from that address straight to recycling. And all those dirty babies, they should go right out with the bathwater, too.

  6. @Cory
    “Hilariously, Mandelson expects that this will work to reduce file-sharing”

    Of course it would *work*, assuming it was enforced. Pretty hard to share files without net access. That’s not the issue; the lack of a actual legal trial, the lack of any disincentive to false accusation, and the draconian nature of the punishment for a minor infraction are the issues.

  7. Lord Mandelson seems to be asking, “How can you have any pudding, when you won’t eat your meat?”

  8. Oh dear. As Charlie Brooker recently said in The Guardian:
    “Christ knows how that’s going to work. Perhaps they’ll employ a uniformed enforcer to run in and physically knock the mouse out of your hand every 10 minutes. Maybe an email arrives, curtly informing you you’ve been fired from Google. Now clear your cache and get out. I guess the powers that be could pressurise local service providers, but if they start cutting off broadband connections willy-nilly, neighbourhood Wi-Fi “theft” will skyrocket. And how do you stop people using iPhones and other mobile internet devices? Smash their fingers with rocks? Position snipers on rooftops?”

    1. @Nectar
      “And how do you stop people using iPhones and other mobile internet devices?”
      Not give them a data plan? Not defending the idea, but that seems simple enough.

  9. IIRC the idea is to maintain a blacklist of people to whom it becomes illegal to sell internet connectivity. The burden is then squarely on providers to avoid entering into a profitable contract with these people. (hah!)

    It seems completely surreal to me that this idea has persisted this long in the agenda of any non-totalitarian government. It’s obviously intrusive, disproportionate, and openly hostile to the concept of oversight. In other words, it is proudly dictatorial in spirit.

  10. Why stop there? Misuse your wedding tackle 3 times, and it gets taken away. Let’s see if Lord Mandelson doesn’t become Lady Mandelson under that rule.

  11. Hello, we’ve decided that we don’t like the political/social/religious/etc content of your webpage/posts/chats/content so we’ve decided that you’re guilty of illegally sharing copyrighted material. This is all very convenient for us, shutting you up and all, so thanks for allowing us the power.

    <3, government

  12. So as soon as it becomes law, every independent content produceer in the world who cares about due process and copyright reform should submit claims of infringement against all RIAA-types in Britain, and against every member of Parliament. Heck, even give notice to the Queen. Very quickly, they will each accumulate three strikes and will lose their Internet connectivity. Then, perhaps, they’ll understand what we’ve been fighting all these years.

    1. Yeah, I’m not sure why this wouldn’t work. Hell, set it up on Mechanical Turk or something. Organize a flash mob. Just let me know, I’d gladly file a few.


  13. I find it particularly ironic that (unelected cabinet minister) Mandleson has already had his “2 strikes” in government.

  14. It’s just… surely he has had loads of people coming to him about this sort of thing being a fundamentally bad idea.

    I wonder how much he uses the internet? Must think it’s not all that important and all that.

  15. I have to believe that this would spell the end of any public access to the internet… I don’t know if Britain currently has wifi in cafes or hotels, internet cafes and/or libraries but I presume so. How exactly are they suppose to respond if they are accused of harbouring downloaders.

  16. Oh. This rule will be quite effective in cutting down on Internet-based filesharing, by banning everyone, guilty or innocent, from the Internet, based on some unfounded accusation or another.

    Or so the record companies and movie distributors fondly hope. After all, if people didn’t have the Internet, they’d buy more records and go out to more movies, right?

    1. “Or so the record companies and movie distributors fondly hope. After all, if people didn’t have the Internet, they’d buy more records and go out to more movies, right?”

      You may have put your finger on something there. If big media can make the internet legally dangerous, inconvenient and painful to use, they don’t have to shift their business model to keep pace with technology. Sue, illigalize, throttle and charge the hell out of the internet user experience, lace it with copyright landmines and draconian penalties – then people will flock to the record store, right?

      Good luck with that.

  17. It probably should be highlighted on every single article about this that Peter Mandelson showed little interest in the issue until after a David Geffen-funded holiday and dinner meeting in Corfu.

    1. Bizarre that he also decided he was interested in aluminum tariffs after a meeting with some rich fellow in Corfu. What is this guy’s obsession with starting conflicts of interest on this island? You would think that the least one could do is schedule one’s meetings with wealthy benefactors at less suspicious places than the sunny Greek isles…

  18. Interesting how France and Britain are moving that way, while Finland has just made high-speed Internet a basic right. You can’t have both. Which way will Brussels go?

  19. so. they’re planning to cut people off without convicting them first, correct?

    why don’t we all just accuse mandelson of illegal filesharing? no proof is needed, just an accusation, and we’ll have the power of numbers. and then he can see what it’s like to be under the thumb of his own office.

  20. I’m interested to see how they think they can enforce this; surely running utorrent with forced encryption through something like Pro Active Webfilter means the traffic is indistinguishable from normal (if high-volume) web browsing? Does anyone know enough about the technical side to be able to give a definitive answer?

    1. I think it goes more along the route “Copyright holder or the RIAA/MPAA equivalents connect to a torrent and note which IPs they’re being connected to.”

      Much easier than actually asking the ISPs to constantly spy on you, and you won’t need more solid evidence because your accusation alone will be enough.

  21. There are a few flaws i see in this plan, such as surely people could start wifi stealing from peoples home and get them cut off and move to another home?

    Also i was just discussing this with a friend and is there an easy way for the government or other agencies to see the content of any torrents your downloading? because if not how can they determine if what you are downloading is legal, since there are many hundreds of legal downloads out there (produced by the bbc or like the SXSW torrents). Also if they cant automatically see in them this could make people produce hundreds of legal torrents with general band names thus causing the agencies to have to trawl through hundreds of files with no worth to them.

  22. Every time I think I might want to move to the UK after school they give me one more reason not to. Is Lord Mandelson insane? Clearly copyright is out of control.

  23. I think it might be good to sit outside Mandelson’s house and run torrents over his wifi…

    Or just call up his ISP and tell them you are Disney and you think he is pirating.

  24. Assuming this doesn’t die when Mandy loses his job in the coming election (heh), it’s the pinnacle of dumb: it’ll surely just mean that there’s a massive pressure to adopt encryption. Now the spooks can’t tell interesting encryption from last week’s episode of Lost, and sharing is still going on.

  25. I don’t think the Conservatives will be any better, but there is hope – they seem to be slightly more clued-up on these sorts of issues, and remember they are pledging to scrap the National ID Database, and generally in favour of rolling back some of the utterly mental laws Labour have brought in. Or so they claim.

  26. Aren’t some of the trackers adding false IP addresses to swarms? Can we persuade them to add the IP blocks of the Houses of Parliament and, say, the Dept. of Business Innovation and Skills and see what happens?

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