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ISPs face down Tories on file sharing

Cameron plan for internet police state rejected

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ISPs have given David Cameron's call for them to block P2P music sharing short shrift, repeating their stance that they are not "the gatekeepers of the internet", as he insists.

ISPA, the industry trade association, told The Register it would be writing to the Conservative leader to explain its position.

In a speech to record industry bigwigs this week, Cameron said internet providers should be responsible for clamping down on piracy, comparing the problem to paedophilia and hate mongering.

He said: "ISPs can block access and indeed close down offending file-sharing sites.

"They have already established the Internet Watch Foundation to monitor child abuse and incitement to racial hatred on the internet. They should be doing the same when it comes to digital piracy."

A spokesman for ISPA said: "The Internet Watch Foundation is very focused in what it does and has taken a long time to get there working with the police. Unlike distributing images of child abuse, copyright infringement can be a civil offence.

"Any kind of blocking has to be the preserve of the courts."

The internet industry has consistently resisted years of attempts to turn it into a policeman for rights owners. The European E-commerce Directive recognises ISPs as "mere conduits" who are only liable if they attain "actual knowledge" of illegal content. The Conservatives appear to want to create a system which forces them to attain that knowledge.

In response to Cameron's comments, Malcolm Hutty, public affairs chief at Linx, the organisation which runs inter-ISP traffic, said: "Our technical experience shows that removal at source is the only effective solution: attempting to block traffic within the network is simply far too easy to get around for anyone who wants to.

"Blocking child abuse images may occasionally help protect users from inadvertently being exposed to such content, but this is quite different from preventing access to music sharing sites that users are actively seeking out."

Despite the industry's steadfastness on monitoring, Cameron's comments, combined with news that a Belgian ISP has been ordered to clean up copyright-infringing material from its network, are likely to reignite the issue.

ISPA's policies on P2P and content liability are here and here. Cameron's speech is here. ®

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