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Ofcom gets power to punish pirates

Regulator will throttle, cap, block filesharing

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Digital Britain Ofcom will get legal powers to impose an array of technical restrictions on ISPs who are unable to reduce illegal filesharing on their networks under plans unveiled by the government.

Lord Carter's final report on Digital Britain, published this afternoon, stops short of mandating a mechanism for persistent copyright infringers to be disconnected, but does suggest port blocking, protocol blocking, URL and IP address blocking, bandwidth capping, bandwidth shaping and filtering of specific content as sanctions.

Under the proposals, rights holders will be able to report broadband users they detect illegally filesharing to their ISP. Providers will then be obliged to notify those user their conduct is illegal.

As under current law, ISPs will be required to release the personal details of repeatedly notified users to rights holder who obtain a court order.

The new technical restriction powers for Ofcom will be triggered if 12 months of the notification regime does not reduce illegal filesharing among those notified at a given ISP by 70 per cent.

Carter said today he had been persuaded by the content industries that the government had to act to force ISPs reduce illegal filesharing.

Music industry bodies were disappointed that the proposals did not go further however. UK Music, which represents labels, collecting societies, music managers and the Musicians' Union said it did not believe the package would reduce piracy by 70 per cent in two to three years, the government's stated aim.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, which represents labels said the government was dithering. "Evidence shows that the government's 'write and then sue' approach won't work," he said. "And government appears to be anticipating its failure by lining up backstop powers for Ofcom to introduce technical measures later."

ISPs are likely to continue to lobby against the proposals as they enter consultation.

The two sides of the debate appear closer to becoming commercial partners however. Earlier this week Virgin Media announced a forthcoming DRM-free download service with Universal Music, although to make the deal it had to agree to disconnect persistent illegal filesharers. ®

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