UK regulator turns over Internet policing standards to movie and record industries

When the last UK Parliament rushed the Digital Economy Act into law without debate, hours before it dissolved for the election, it appointed Ofcom, the telcoms regulator, to work out the details. Specifically, it charged Ofcom with sorting out some high standards for what evidence a rightsholder would have to produce in order to finger an online infringer (the DEA gives these rightsholders the power to eventually disconnect entire families from the internet on the strength of these accusations).

Now Ofcom has abrogated its duty to the public and announced that the record and film industry can "self-regulate" their evidence-gathering procedures; in other words, anything that the MPA or BPI say counts as proof that you've violated copyright goes. Since these are the same companies that have mistakenly accused dead people, inanimate objects (laser printers), and people who don't own computers of file-sharing, this doesn't bode well.

What's more, it's not legal. The Open Rights Group and Consumer Focus have pointed out that the Digital Economy Act instructs Ofcom to come up with standards, not throw its hands up in the air and give the entertainment industry bullies the power to act as judge, jury and executioner.

Ofcom's proposal denies us the ability to check whether the methods of collecting of the evidence are trustworthy. Instead, copyright holders and Internet Service Providers will just self-certify that everything's ok. If they get it wrong, there's no penalty.

The Act requires the evidential standards to be defined - but Ofcom are leaving this up the rights holders and ISPs to decide in the future. We ask, how is anyone meant to trust this code if we can't see how the evidence is gathered or checked?

After all, only last week, we heard about people have been apparently wrongly sent accusations of downloading tracks by the Ministry of Sound. We know things go wrong, and that's why the Act requires the evidential standards to be set out. What we need now is a new consultation on a new code, that is compliant with the Act.

Ofcom's code does not comply with Digital Economy Act (Thanks, Jim!)


  1. Lucky for me I live in Ireland, so won’t have to deal with this sort of thing. What now?

  2. That’s OK, I’m sure the record companies will act responsibly and use their new powers wisely.

    I am worried, however, that the caseload generated might be a burden on the British legal system,. Moreover, traditional judges and juries may not have the necessary knowledge to properly handle copyright cases. Do you think it would make sense for the music industry to appoint their own judges and juries for copyright trials, thus freeing up regular judges to hear other cases?

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  4. To fix copyright. The author of a work should have copyright +15 to 20 years after death to provide for their family. However, if they transfer their copyright by selling it to a rights management group the copyright on a work should only be 15-20 years.

  5. I am in favor of this and I believe consumers will be too. The reason the record industry has made a few wrong accusations has been because they did not have to tools to properly identify people on the internet with 100% accuracy. With these new powers, the recording artists can finally enforce their copyrights with the necessary precision to avoid any further mistaken accusations.

    “Moreover, traditional judges and juries may not have the necessary knowledge to properly handle copyright cases. Do you think it would make sense for the music industry to appoint their own judges and juries for copyright trials, thus freeing up regular judges to hear other cases?”

    Yes, I believe that would be wise for exactly the reason you stated: Civilian judges and juries don’t have the knowledge to assign a proper value to the record industry’s intellectual property. Too often, the artists have had to settle for far too little. Take Jammie Thomas, that jury awarded the victims in that case a generous (to Thomas) sum of $1.9 million. Unfortunately for justice, the Judge reduced the settlement to an insulting $54,000. In a justice system run by people with sufficient knowledge, things like that wouldn’t happen.

    1. There’s something very wrong with the world when you can’t tell the sarcastic posters from the trolls from the astroturfers; I’m having real problems deciding which of those possible explanations is the least ridiculous…

  6. You know, copyright isn’t something that only real artists or large corporations can use.

    Why couldn’t this be used by individual citizens to have wealthy and powerful Brit’s kicked off the internet?

    I’m sure someone could come up with material suitably enticing for an MP to download?

  7. The #DEAct is a total disaster waiting to happen. If it proceeds, there’ll be an almighty backlash.

    Do the music industry seriously believe this will work? As soon as hardcore file-sharers receive their first threatening letter, most will be using their disposable income to buy encrypted connections so they can continue, instead of buying more music.

    I see no reason to support an industry that treats its core audience with such contempt.

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