Peer to peer: Developments from London

Following on from the iiNet case (see our previous posts here and here) and ongoing controversy surrounding online copyright infringement, readers may be interested to learn of developments over in the UK.  British attempts to curb online copyright infringement have led to provisions introduced in the Digital Economy Bill (UK) (Bill) which create sanctions against individuals who illegally share files online.  The House of Commons passed the Bill after only two hours of debate as it was pushed through in the ‘wash-up’ process (the pre-election process designed to rush uncontroversial bills through Parliament before it is dissolved). 

Under the new Digital Economy Act 2010 (UK), internet service providers (ISPs) may be required to limit the service of an internet subscriber found to infringe copyright repeatedly through file sharing.  Internet subscribers may be prevented from gaining access to particular material, their internet service may be subject to restricted speeds or their service may be suspended entirely.  The legislation will also grant the Secretary of State power to make regulations about injunctions which courts may grant requiring ISPs to block access to sites facilitating illegal file sharing.

The changes have been welcomed by the music industry but have been met with scepticism and some criticism in the broader media, partially due to their effect on individuals and partially due to the lack of debate surrounding the passage of the Bill.  The effect on ISPs also needs to be considered. 

Other European jurisdictions have also introduced tough provisions to enable individuals to be pursued for copyright infringement.  In France, copyright infringement is a criminal offence and internet access may be suspended for up to a year if, after two warnings, a subscriber continues to illegally share files.  In Sweden, ISPs may be required by a court to hand over the personal details of internet subscribers.

It remains to be seen how influential the British approach becomes.  In the iiNet case, the Federal Court held that ISPs do not ‘authorise’ copyright infringement merely by providing an internet service to customers who infringe copyright.

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