Illegal Downloads: Guilty By Association?

July 13, 2012 12:28 pm

The UK Court of Appeal has ruled that the hugely controversial UK Digital Economy Act is compatible with European Union legislation. British internet service providers British Telecom (BT) and Talk Talk lost an appeal about those stipulations of the Digital Economy Act that force providers to actively combat copyright infringements. The two internet service providers had argued certain elements of the law are in conflict with EU laws.

The latest ruling clearly shuts another door for BT and Talk Talk and should be seen as a victory for the entertainment and music industry, and those in favour of tackling internet piracy robustly. The judgment could also have political implications. It might force the current UK Government to make a decision: does it fully support the hugely unpopular Digital Economy Act?

The Liberal Democrats, part of the current Coalition Government, have always fiercely opposed the Digital Economy Act, which was introduced under the previous (Labour) Government. So far, the Cameron cabinet has held back to see which approach the courts would take, but now the legal options for businesses to challenge the DEA have become fairly limited, it is likely that the Government will soon have to speak out and has to make clear whether it stands by this piece of legislation.

One the most criticised aspects of the Act is that under the Digital Economy Act, ISPs are forced to send warning letters to users who have allegedly downloaded illegal files. If warnings are ignored, ISPs will potentially cut users off. With the latest ruling, the prospect of providers sending letters has come one step closer. According to one of our editorial board members ‘first notifications could be arriving in subscriber’s inboxes in just over a year.’

Many industry experts also think that under the Act internet users are ‘presumed guilty by association’, since the Act will force users to take greater responsibility for monitoring activity in their own homes. After all, the data that will be collected by providers – to establish a list of infringers – is linked to IP addresses, not to individuals. So the latest ruling means it has become more likely that parents, couples, housemates and others who share a computer will have to watch each other closely: who is downloading illegal content?

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