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The Myth of Three Strikes

How lobbyists and the press invented the great disconnection scare

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Mandybill It's taken a national newspaper 18 months to report what two major British industries and several million Reg readers already knew: there won't be any permanent disconnections for file sharers.

The decision was taken two years ago, we first reported, as a consensus was thrashed out. Two factors influenced the thinking. The French model required the construction of a huge database to prevent a user hopping from one ISP to another, or down to the library. With Pay As You Go Dongles ready in five minutes and for a few quid, it would need to be comprehensive. So to oversee the database, the French created a vast bureaucratic apparatus (Hadopi itself). This was not necessary if other sanctions were chosen. The Government also realised that permanent disconnections meant picking a fight with Europe, as net access had become regarded as a 'human right'.

So Permanent Disconnections died a quiet death when BERR published its consultation paper in July 2008. Letter writing was the favoured sanction, but "traffic management" would be reserved for a "hard core". Note: no disconnections. By the time the Carter Report was published last summer, traffic management had been joined by suspensions of service. And suspensions, not permanent disconnections, is what made it into the Digital Britain Bill published in November.

So how could anybody labour under the misapprehension? It's quite simple. They wanted to.

Record label lobby group the BPI had pushed for stronger measures, and continue to do so. As we exclusively reported last month, the group devised an alternative to which implemented instant take-down notices, a British DMCA, with chunks of the internet disappearing on notification of infringement. If one's goal is to stamp out an activity, fear is the most effective deterrent. It's in the BPI's interest that we fear that even thinking about downloading an MP3 will bring a SWAT team bursting through the door with a castration shears.

Similarly, anti-copyright activist groups found they could exploit this as a recruitment tool. It's much easier to rouse people against something, ("The Man") than it is to rally them for something - like, say, decent music services and legal file sharing. As we noted as far back as 2008:

Rallying the troops against Wicked Acts is the oil that keep the machinery of activist fund-raising going. There's little to be gained by slaying the dragon, and much more to be gained by keeping it caged, so it can be let out to scare the population every so often.

And the ISP's own lobby could be guaranteed to drag its feet over anything. That's the nature of politics. Carphone Warehouse has been even been eyeing the marketing opportunity of a "No Disconnections" promise.

The result was a perfect alignment of stupidity. Anyone who's studied the proliferation of health and environment scares over the last 15 years knows how easily the press can become lobbyist mouthpieces - if the scare is scary enough. It's much easier to churn out a press release than it is to study primary source material - time is short. A bit like MMR, the scare was too good to leave alone. So Permanent Disconnections lived on as a myth, because it suited so many agendas. Cynical, moi?

The latest rejoicing at the "cancellation" of something that was never going to happen anyway was prompted by the Government response to an e-petition on the No.10 Downing Street website in response to a paltry 500 signatures, here. The Guardian completes the illusion, here.

Now if you feel a vacuum in your life, here's one thing that you should be agitating about: the music business hasn't fulfilled its side of a bargain, again. The understanding between ISPs, music and BERR was that sanctions would go hand with new businesses and services. The justification for sanctions wasn't a bail-out, it was argued they were necessary to give the new services a fighting chance.

Remind me where those are, again? ®

Bootnote

We should point out that important chunks of the music business have never advocated permanent disconnections, and its umbrella group UK Music has never pushed for them either. Last summer it spelled out exactly who should be suspended for what, and for how long. But then UK Music represents a more diverse range of interests - indies, songwriters, publishers, managers, musicians - than the BPI.

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