File Sharing in Britain

Virtual Law@LSE writes that BT, Virgin, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse have all signed up to the Government’s new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on File Sharing. [BBC, Guardian, Telegraph]

The MOU means that the companies have to work to create a “significant reduction” in illegal filesharing. This may sound easy enough but spying on customers and accusing them of violating copyright law is not really good business – especially for companies whose business it is to sell faster (and more expensive) broadband. The ISP’s have in the MoU agreed to send out “informative letters” to customers whose accounts have been identified as being used for potential file sharing. But as Virtual Law@LSE writes:

It would appear many thousands of people will get letters from their ISPs telling them that the BPI has identified them as potentially being in breach of copyright. The ISPs should be careful here in terms of customer relations. It is never a good idea to tell a customer of your that someone believes them to be a copyright infringer. It will (a) suggest you are snooping on them (which to an extent is true), (b) suggests you are entitled to lecture them on their activities online and (c) suggests you are serving the interests of the BPI not their own customers.

In order to be able to send the letters to suspected file sharers the ISP’s must either monitor all data traffic or only monitor those who use unusually high amounts of broadband. Either way the ISP’s are uncomfortably close to violating peoples privacy. Maybe not in a legal sense and maybe they are acting within the limitations of their customer contracts but still tantamount to surveillence and a violation of privacy.

It is also a form of privatized regulation through technology which sits uncomfortably with the potential freedom that the technology enables…

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