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ISPs demand record biz pays up if cut-off P2P users sue

Money meets mouth on file-sharing legislation threats

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ISPs are calling on the record industry to put its money where its mouth is on illegal file-sharing, by underwriting the cost of lawsuits brought by people who are wrongly accused of downloading or uploading music.

ISPA told The Register today it is worried about the cost to its members if users targeted by rights holders for copyright infringement turn out to be innocent. "We still need to establish the proof points," a spokesman said.

It's the latest public detail from long-running private negotiations that have hit mainstream media headlines today. The lobbying campaign to have government force ISPs to disconnect persistent illegal file-sharers scored a victory with a leak to The Times. The draft government document says: "We will move to legislate to require internet service providers to take action on illegal file-sharing."

The threat (note the qualifier "move to") is not news, however. A battle between the record industry and ISPs over the plans has been waged in private for over a year, and the government has indicated on more than one occasion that it backs the rights holders. The leak merely repeats earlier reports that the government is indeed preparing legislation if a voluntary settlement is not reached soon.

The details of the proposed three strikes system and the stalemate in negotiations have also been public for some time.

It's reported that the threat to legislate will be reiterated by Gordon Brown and the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham in the next two weeks when they publish a broad cultural strategy document. It will commit the government to laws on filesharing if there's no self-regulatory solution. Previously ministers had said legislation was a possibility, or expressed personal support for it, but the intention to act has been clear for months.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said no dates on legislation had been set. In January then-intellectual property minister Lord Triesman told The Register that he was aiming to have proposals ready for the Queen's speech this November.

In response to the mainstream media waking up to the process today, ISPA has been keen to emphasise the advantages of a self-regulatory system, the ISPs seemingly having resigned themselves to some sort of enforcement role against illegal filesharing.

An ISPA spokesman contrasted the success of an internet industry-led initiative such as the UK's Internet Watch Foundation, which combats child sexual abuse content online, with the cumbersome and slow introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). He added that the internet trade association has not seen documents cited by The Times, but that there was nothing new in the "three strikes" system it reportedly proposes. "It's not like these sort of things haven't been said before," he said.

A negotiated settlement is still possible, as a statement from the BPI today demonstrates. Chief executive Geoff Taylor pleaded: "We simply want ISPs to advise customers if their account is being used to distribute music illegally, and then, if the advice is ignored, enforce their own terms and conditions about abuse of the account."

He called ISP arguments about privacy "bogus", though according to The Times the government is considering making them share data about who they have disconnected, which would require new user contracts under the Data Protection Act. However, after an EU ruling on file-sharing data protection in January, the BPI indicated that it wouldn't want personal data to be shared.

The BPI said: "The music business wants to partner with internet service providers to create new services that would deliver even greater value for music lovers, artists, labels and ISPs." A hint perhaps at blanket licensing of file-sharing at ISP level - the other end of the internet music equation, which the record business must resolve to survive. ®

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