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'Rights Agency' and new regulations to hit P2P infringement

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Updated Following its failure to foster a voluntary solution between ISPs and rights holders, the government will create a new agency and regulations to clamp down on copyright infringement via peer-to-peer networks, it's reported today.

A proposal for a body called the Rights Agency will be at the centre of anti-internet piracy measures, according to the Financial Times, which cited sources who had read a draft of Lord Carter's report on Digital Britain. The Rights Agency will be introduced alongside a new code of practice for ISPs and rights holders, to be overseen by Ofcom, according to the leaked draft. The final report is due out by the end of this month.

ISPs will be required to tell customers when they are suspected of illegally sharing music and films, it's reported. So far some major ISPs have trialled sending their customers' copyright infringement notices in partnership with the record industry on a voluntary basis.

The new regulations will also reportedly force ISPs to collect data on "serious and repeated infringers" that they would have to make available to rights holders in possession of a court order. It's unclear whether that means providers would be made to keep records of the content shared by committed filesharers.

There would be nothing new in requiring ISPs to keep logs of which customers are assigned which IP addresses when. That kind of data is already obtainable by court order, and has been used by rights holders to pursue alleged illegal filsharers. The vague reference to data collection is therefore likely to prompt concern from consumer advocates over potential monitoring of actual internet traffic.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) said yesterday that its consultation on peer-to-peer copyright infringement had attracted polarized responses. The government has long been committed to a rearguard action against illegal filesharing, but has been trying to encourage ISPs and rights holders to agree a voluntary solution.

A BERR spokeswoman refused to comment on today's report.

The creation of the Rights Agency will represent tacit admission of a failure of self-regulation. Figures from both the internet industry and rights holder organisations contacted by The Register today interpreted the leak as indicating the UK government intends to imitate the French's new Hadopi copyright enforcement body. It remains very unlikely that sanctions against consumers accused of illegal filesharing will go as far as the full internet cut-off mandated by Hadopi's "three strikes" process, however.

The BPI, which represents record labels, said it had been working with ISPs to agree enforcement sanctions since the six largest providers signed a memorandum of understanding on illegal filesharing last summer. "We envisage that this work will result in voluntary deals, enshrined in a set of codes of practice underpinned by regulation," it said.

The Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) said it was not aware of plans for the Rights Agency and could not immediately comment.

Separately today the IFPI, an international coalition of record industry bodies, said 95 per cent of music downloads are unlicensed. ®

Update

ISPA sent this statement:

ISPA is aware of rumours in the media today about Government plans for the creation of a new agency responsible for reducing illegal online file-sharing. ISPA understands that the Government is considering its options after it became clear that its preferred option as outlined in the recent consultation document was not supported by stakeholders. ISPA would expect a full consultation on any proposal for legislation from Government in this area and will comment when more details become available.

ISPA maintains that Government imposed regulation is unlikely to provide a satisfactory solution to this issue and believes that the emphasis should continue to be on educating the public about copyright and on developing alternative lawful distribution channels.

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