Comment A petition urging the Prime Minister not to introduce "three strikes" legislation against illegal filesharing has made its debut on the 10 Downing Street website.
In their campaign for digital freedoms, peer to peer users are demanding that the government doesn't force the issue. But ironically, they are inadvertently wishing themselves a world where their online activities are governed by an opaque industry settlement, negotiated in secret.
The e-petition asserts: "We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to not force internet service providers to act as legal representatives for the RIAA and be treated like a common courier."
Both the BPI and ISPA would likely support the statement. Neither wants legislation - it's clumsy, slow and expensive. As we've reported over recent months, the ISPs are already resigned to implementing disconnection procedures against persistent illegal filesharers, and the remaining battles are over money.
Indeed, since an enforcement system is now inevitable, net users should consider whether it might be better if the government did have to go through with threats to write new laws. It would at least mean the carve-up would take place as part of a more public process, with parliamentary scrutiny of the final procedures.
The e-petition at least gets its facts rights on what role the ISPs are being told they must play. "Under these sanctions, the industry tells your ISP they suspect illegal behaviour. Then your ISP writes to you," the petitioners correctly state in the accompanying details.
Their clarity is admirable in the current environment. Since the plans made a splash in the mainstream two weeks ago, the public debate has been awash with technological tosh. Tinfoil hat fantasies about ISPs being forced to inspect every packet have been bounced around with little regard for the truth. Meanwhile journalists have struggled to get to grips with the issues at play, driving them to the classic cop-out of reporting the controversy, rather than helping the millions of ordinary UK citizens affected to understand the implications of the facts.
So let's all run through the notes together once more, this time with feeling:
- The rights holder body (BPI/MPAA/whoever) will act as the "policeman". Its job is to catch you.
- It will provide your ISP with easily-obtained (see video here) screenshot evidence showing your IP address participating in a copyright infringing BitTorrent swarm.
- The ISP will act as the "magistrate". Its job is to punish you.
- It will issue warnings to you to stop illegally filesharing, effectively putting you on probation.
- After an agreed number of warnings - probably two, maybe more - if the rights holder supplies further evidence you are still involved in infringement, you will be disconnected.
- Consider yourself digitally ASBO'd. We don't know yet whether you'll appear on a shared naughty list.
It's really that simple. For the technically astute, such a system will be easy to circumvent from the get-go. Four out of 21 people accused under the procedure at Tiscali last year ended up booted off the internet, mind you. Joe Bloggs neither knows nor cares what an anonymous proxy is, but he loves his free music.