Tag Archives: Digital Economy Bill

Salem’s Lot – British Telecom (BT) tells Welsh village pensioner she can have broadband… for £150,000

With its social networking websites, email and blogs, the Internet appears to have brought the world closer together. Unless, it seems, you happen to live in the Welsh village of Salem. For 71-year-old resident Beverley McCartney has been told that to install broadband at her home would cost her more than £150,000

The sum does not include a monthly subscription and would have to be paid prior to any online shopping occurred. Yesterday Mrs McCartney said it was unacceptable that she should be denied broadband access just because she lives in a small village. Just days after BT announced huge profits, it emerged that the company told the pensioner it would cost her £129,613.54 plus VAT to connect her house near Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire.

The pensioner said today: ‘I’m not on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere – it’s rural, but not a wilderness. ‘It’s outrageous. I thought it was ludicrous in view of their profits. I can only laugh otherwise I’d probably burst into tears.’ BT had previously told Mrs McCartney the firm was unable to connect broadband – but wrote to her last week saying it could. The company said in ‘very rare’ cases exceptional charges would be imposed.

Mrs McCartney said: ‘I phoned BT and said surely this is a typing error and the girl said: “No, there’s been no mistake, other people have had bills for much more than this.” ‘I live three miles out of Llandeilo but there’s 50 odd houses in Salem and I’m quite sure they’d like broadband too. But I couldn’t afford £2,000, let alone £150,000.’ Last year Prince Charles warned that homes and business in the countryside risked being left in ‘broadband deserts’.

An estimated two million people are unable to access a fast internet connection and the Prince said isolated communities, which already struggle to make a living, face an ‘immense handicap’ without the ability to promote their goods or download information through websites and email. Schools, doctors’ surgeries and other essential services are also suffering after being left in the internet ‘slow lane’, he said, and if the rural economy fails as a result, Britain’s countryside will be full of ‘ghost communities, populated by little more than second-home owners’.

Last week David Cameron appointed Ed Vaizey to be the minister in charge of the Digital Economy Act, which was passed just before the General Election. The controversial Bill seeks to curb online piracy, among several other major policies, all with the aim of stimulating the UK’s digital economy Yesterday a BT spokesman insisted it was fair to charge Mrs McCartney the vast sum for broadband. He said: ‘If it’s just one individual person and it requires upgrading the network for one person, no company would cover that.

‘There can be very rare cases where additional charges need to be applied because of an exceptional amount of work required to the network in order to provide service. ‘These charges reflect the additional line plant and equipment needed to provide broadband to a particular location.’ He added: ‘BT is making a multi-billion pound investment in its UK network and is continuing to work with the Welsh Assembly to find solutions for the relatively few areas in Wales still unable to access a broadband service.’

He said the company worked to connect previous ‘not-spots’, helping residents get online – but added Salem was not classified as not-spot. He said: ‘We’ve been working on broadband ‘not-spots’ but it requires huge amounts of engineering work.’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1281932/BT-tells-village-pensioner-broadband–150-000.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#ixzz0pAEIJ817

Labour passes seriously flawed Digital Economy Bill in ill-judged rush to win votes on a pseudo-populist issue

The British Parliament on Thursday approved plans to crack down on digital media piracy by authorizing the suspension of repeat offenders’ Internet connections. Following the House of Commons late Wednesday, the House of Lords on Thursday approved the bill after heavy lobbying from the music and movie industries, which say they suffer huge losses from unauthorized copying over the Internet. The law makes Britain the second large European country, after France, to approve a so-called graduated response system, under which online copyright violators face temporary suspensions of their Internet accounts if they ignore warning letters to stop. The anti-piracy plan is part of a broader bill aimed at stimulating the development of the digital economy in Britain. Many of the original proposals in the bill were dropped in the rush to complete the legislation before national elections set for May 6. These included a plan to impose a tax on telephone lines to finance the expansion of faster broadband connections to remote areas. Under the proposal, every telephone landline was to be subject to a levy of 50 pence, or 76 U.S. cents, a month. Also dropped was a plan to use public money to finance local television news reports on ITV, a commercial broadcaster


Editor’s CommentI ‘was’ a lifelong Labour supporter. Now because of this stupid authoritarian bill granting almost dictatorial powers to the ‘music industries’ I shall vote against Labour at the forthcoming General Election and urge everyone to do the same. We shall see unjust case after unjust case pass through the courts of our land until the judiciary kill this idiotic and undemocratic bill 

Is it time to defend our rights against copyright tyranny?

Copyright is not the only thing that matters online, says Bill Thompson

John Young is a brave and tenacious man, an architect based in New York whose website, cryptome.org, has been a safe online repository for documents that someone, somewhere does not want published. Since 1996 he has resisted pressure from governments, companies and individuals, using the strong protection against prior restraint provided by the US Bill of Rights to publish information about secret surveillance, spying, war crimes and many other topics.

Thanks to a robust policy on the part of his current internet service provider, his site has remained online despite the best efforts of those who are embarrassed by its contents. Until last month, that is, when cryptome.org disappeared from the internet after Network Solutions disabled access to the site’s domain.

Mr Young had not revealed military secrets that put the lives of soldiers at risk, or published the finer details of Britain’s nuclear deterrent capability. The document that got the site kicked offline was not a detailed map of the presidential escape route from the White House, or a list of the lobbyists who have visited Downing Street in the last year, but a 22-page document written by Microsoft. It details how US government agencies can request access to customer data stored on Microsoft servers, like your Hotmail messages, and Microsoft used copyright law to achieve what the US government could not.

The company has since withdrawn its complaint, noting that it only wanted one document removed and was not attempting to restrict access to the whole of Cryptome. Network Solutions has put it back online – with the offending file still present. But the fact that laws passed to protect the commercial interests of creators of original content can evidently have more force than national security concerns should make us all pause.

John Young is not the only one in trouble at the moment. My friend Mark Kobayashi-Hillary had uploaded more than 900 videos to YouTube over the years, most of them related to his specialist area of globalisation and outsourcing, but his account has been removed because of claims that he is infringing copyright.

After some investigation Mark has been told that since he has had three videos removed at the request of rights holders he is a “repeat offender”.

His account was terminated to comply with Federal law after comedian Jimmy Carr’s management company complained of a video he had taken at a recent Carr performance.

YouTube is a US company, so applying US rules seems reasonable, but there has been no legal process and his account was closed without any notice being given to him, so he had no opportunity to question it in advance. And what tips this particular case over from mere irritation into something worthy of Kafka is that the camera phone clip that got Mark’s account removed showed the audience waiting for Jimmy Carr to appear on stage, and not a second of the comic’s performance.

Yet Chambers Management claims that it holds the copyright in any material filmed inside the venue and so his video is infringing. I haven’t seen Mark’s ticket and it may well be that he has assigned copyright to the company by agreeing to the terms and conditions printed in one-point on the back, but even if this is so the absurdity remains.

Right is might

It seems that copyright, a legal framework developed over 300 years to ensure a balance between the interests of the wider community and those of the creative artist has become so tipped towards those of the “rights holder” that few of us can go through a day without breaking the law in one way or another.

The current debate over the Digital Economy Bill in the UK Parliament has revealed that provisions intended to protect the interests of rights-holders by forcing service providers whose networks are used to download unlicensed content to take preventive measures and face prosecution themselves could well force small businesses, universities and even public libraries to severely limit or even abandon their provision of free net access.

And people around the UK are still receiving letters from the legal firm ACS:Law accusing them of downloading material and asking for money to “settle” any claim without recourse to legal process, causing deep concern to many who feel that they are being unjustly accused and coerced into making payments through fear of a legal process they do not understand.

Elsewhere representatives of many governments, including the UK, are currently discussing the detailed provisions of ACTA, the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, although the exact details are being kept secret and we have only occasional leaks to go by.

ACTA began as an attempt to control the trade in counterfeit goods, which is laudable when applied to prescription medicines and less defensible when applied to cheap handbags. Unfortunately it has expanded in scope to cover digital counterfeiting, and intellectual property rights are apparently now central, offering the prospect that the sort of protections embodied in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the provisions that obliged YouTube to pull a video when infringement is merely alleged, would apply worldwide.

This has got to stop. We have to say “enough is enough” to those who hold copyrights in songs and images and words and videos. We must refuse to remake the digital world in order to serve only their interests. There is so much more to online life than watching ripped-off copies of big-budget movies or looking at low-resolution cameraphone videos of bands.

We are on the verge of building so many restrictions into online activity that the creativity, inventiveness and sheer joy of life on the net will be squeezed out just to ensure that over-hyped comedians are able to censor videos of their fans waiting for the show to begin. This is not the way forward, but if we do not act now then it will shape the internet that we offer to the billions waiting to get online and change the world.  It would be a tragedy if the network the people of East Africa found, now that they have fast fibre links to the rest of the internet, was locked-down, limited and restricted by laws passed to placate fearful Western rights holders and they decided, as a result, that it wasn’t worth joining.


Digital Economy Bill could ‘breach human rights’

An influential group of MPs and peers has said the government’s approach to illegal file-sharing could breach the rights of internet users.

The Joint Select Committee on Human Rights said the government’s Digital Economy Bill needed clarification. It said that technical measures – which include cutting off persistent pirates – were not “sufficiently specified”. In addition, it said that it was concerned that the Bill could create “over-broad powers”. “The internet is constantly creating new challenges for policy-makers but that cannot justify ill-defined or sweeping legislative responses, especially when there is the possibility of restricting freedom of expression or the privacy of individual users,” said Andrew Dismore MP and chair of the Committee.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which oversees the Digital Economy Bill, said that government had “always been clear that [its] proposals to deal with unlawful file-sharing should not contravene human rights”.

‘Sweeping powers’

The Select Committee only examined the parts of the Bill that focus on plans to tackle illegal file-sharing as well as a controversial amendment to copyright law. “The concern we have with this Bill is that it lacks detail,” said Mr Dismore. “It has been difficult, even in the narrow area we have focussed on, to get a clear picture of the scope and impact of the provisions.” The Digital Economy Bill was outlined in the Queen’s speech in November 2009.

One of the most hotly-debated elements is the so-called “three strikes rule” that would give regulator Ofcom new powers to disconnect or slow down the connections of persistent net pirates. The Committee said it had concerns about “technical measures” like these and how they would be applied. For example, the government has not specified whether a whole household could be cut off if only one member of a family was identified as a persistent file-sharer.

The committee said that measures such as this have “the potential to breach internet users’ rights” and had not been “sufficiently specified to allow for an assessment of proportionality”. Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, which has campaigned against the measures, said that disconnecting alleged file-sharers was “draconian and unpredictably damaging”.

A spokesperson for BIS said: “slowing down or suspending peoples broadband would only be invoked following several clear warnings”. Any technical measures would require “secondary legislation”, he added. “There will be no technical measures imposed at all if the initial measures taken are as successful as we expect.”

The Committee also examined Clause 17 of the bill, which would give the government the power to amend the copyright law without passing further primary legislation. The clause has proved controversial. In late 2009, a consortium of web companies including Facebook, Google, Yahoo and eBay wrote to the business secretary Peter Mandelson objecting to the clause.

The web firms urged MPs to remove the clause, which they said could give government “unprecedented and sweeping powers” to amend copyright laws. The Select Committee said that it had been told that changes would be made to the clause to ensure that any amendments to copyright law would be “better scrutinised by Parliament”.

“Despite this the Committee remains concerned that Clause 17 remains overly broad and that parliamentary scrutiny may remain inadequate,” it said. The BIS spokesperson said that government had already tabled “a series of amendments which aim to clarify the breadth and scope of clause 17”. The Digital Economy bill is currently being scrutinised by the House of Lords. It was dealt a blow recently when Sion Simon, one of the MPs charged with pushing it through parliament, announced he was standing down


BPI condemns copyright cash demands

The UK’s music industry body has distanced itself from a law firm’s letter-writing campaign demanding cash recompense from people suspected of unlawfully sharing copyrighted files.

ACS:Law has sent thousands of letters to those suspected of unlawfully downloading copyrighted material, demanding immediate payment of hundreds of pounds from each recipient and threatening legal action if they do not pay. On Friday, the BPI said in a statement that it did not condone this approach.

“We don’t favour the approach taken by ACS:Law to tackling illegal file-sharing, which is at odds with the proportionate and graduated response advocated by BPI and proposed in the Digital Economy Bill,” the statement read. “We uphold the highest standards of evidence, and our view is that legal action is best reserved for the most persistent or serious offenders — rather than widely used as a first response.”

Although the BPI used the term ‘illegal’ in relation to file-sharing, such activity is more rightly termed ‘unlawful’, as it is not a criminal offence but a civil matter.

One ACS:Law letter released by consumer organisation Which? tells a suspected unlawful file-sharer to pay £625 within five weeks, or face a court case for damages plus costs.

The law firm represents content rights holders ranging from games companies to record labels. It uses software that tracks file-sharing sites to identify the IP address of suspected unlawful file-sharers, then uses court orders to get ISPs to link those IP addresses to their customers, after which the letters are sent.

This approach stands in contrast with that proposed in the Digital Economy Bill, which wants warning letters to be sent before any technical measures are used to combat unlawful file-sharing.

A BPI spokesman said on Friday that the organisation does support the sending of letters, but “as notifications, as outlined in the Digital Britain proposals”. On Tuesday, Which? issued a statement saying it had heard from more than 150 people who believed they had been wrongly accused. “My 78-year-old father yesterday received a letter from ACS law demanding £500 for a porn file he is alleged to have downloaded,” one consumer is quoted by Which? as writing. “He doesn’t even know what file-sharing or BitTorrent is, so has certainly not done this himself or given anyone else permission to use his computer to do such a thing.”

Matt Bath, head of technology at the consumer organisation, said in the statement that “innocent consumers are being threatened with legal action for copyright infringements they not only haven’t committed, but wouldn’t know how to commit”, and voiced concerns that many people would be “frightened into paying up rather than facing the stress of a court battle”.

Most people who receive such letters are not sued, according to solicitor Michael Coyle of Lawdit, who represents hundreds of recipients. He pointed out that recipients cannot be forced to pay without a claim being formally issued by the rights holder in court. “Talking very generally, the only way people can be found liable of copyright infringement is in a court, and you have to admit it,” Coyle told ZDNet UK on Friday. “If you don’t admit it, it can only be found on the hard drive. There’s no-one to test the [IP address-identifying] software in court [and relying on] an IP address is at best a wee bit circumspect.” Coyle added that, to his knowledge, no-one has yet launched a challenge to any court-issued claim that followed ACS:Law’s letters


Complaints over ‘false’ illegal file sharer letters

Consumer magazine Which? Computer says it has received complaints from a number of people who claim they have been falsely targeted by a law firm going after illegal file sharers. Which? states that some of those who have received letters from ACS:Law have no knowledge of the offences they’re alleged to have committed. 10 new people have approached the magazine since the law company sent out its most recent round of letters a fortnight ago.

According to the magazine’s technology editor, Matt Bath: “Innocent consumers are being threatened with legal action for copyright infringements they not only haven’t committed, but wouldn’t know how to commit.”

Out-of-court settlements

ACS:Law offers those it contacts the opportunity to settle out of court for around £500, and Bath fears that many will choose that route to avoid the stress and expense of a court battle. On its website, ACS:Law claims that “80 per cent of all defendants opt for settlements outside of court, for amounts more than originally claimed,” and says that it has been instructed “to increase the number of claims we issue at court by at least 300 per cent over the coming months.”

However, it admitted it had dropped some cases from last year. To date none of its actions has resulted in a court appearance, and the company is under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

According to ACS:Law spokesman Anthony Crossley, the firm represents a number of clients, including DigiProtect, a German content forum based in Frankfurt. The front page of the DigiProtect website says “We love music”. Bath advises those who are innocent but accused to “rigorously deny it and, if possible, provide physical evidence of where they were when the infringement took place,” and to contact Which?.


Digital Economy Bill to be watered down

A government Bill that would give Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, sweeping new powers to amend copyright laws will be watered down tomorrow after complaints from internet giants including Google and Yahoo.

Ministers will put forward a series of amendments to the Digital Economy Bill, which contains flagship plans to fight internet piracy, after Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and eBay wrote to Lord Mandelson warning of their “grave concerns” over the Bill’s clause 17.

Although the Bill’s main focus is on fighting peer-to-peer filesharing, ministers say that other areas of online copyright infringement are developing, and they want to future-proof the Bill by giving the secretary of state new powers to amend the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

“We believe the Bill’s clause 17 opens the way for arbitrary measures,” the companies complained. “This power could be used, for example, to … increase monitoring of user data even where no illegal practice has taken place.”

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have attacked the proposals, and the Government will tomorrow offer a compromise. It is understood that ministers will back an amendment tabled by Lord Bragg and Lord Puttnam that would make any proposed change to copyright laws subject to more rigorous parliamentary scrutiny, including a 60-day consultation period.

Ministers would also have to subject copyright proposals to an evidential test, to show that Britain’s film and music industries would be harmed without the changes. They will also have to consult with consumer groups before changing copyright laws.

The Bill still faces a tight parliamentary timeframe to become law before an election. The new government position shows that ministers are set on keeping clause 17, despite suspicions that it was a sacrificial lamb, to be discarded in last-minute negotiations.

The music industry had proposed a compromise position, in which instead of the controversial clause, the courts would be given powers to block illicit websites that hosted copyright material. But ministers rejected the proposal after it was leaked to journalists.

A spokesman for the Department for Business said: “The Government remains squarely behind the aims of clause 17; we would not have written it into the Bill if we did not think it was needed.”



Internet piracy measures ‘will cost consumers £500m’

The Digital Economy Bill, which requires internet service providers (ISPs) to disconnect users who are accused of illegal filesharing, will cost consumers up to £500 million, the Government has estimated.

The Bill, which is expected to become law next year, will add £25 a year to the cost of broadband, according to ISPs. The Government’s impact assessment document, which examines the likely effects of the Bill, estimates that around 40,000 households will give up their broadband connections entirely to avoid the higher fees.

The impact assessment, written by Lord Young, of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, and Lord Davies, of the Department of Culture Media and Sport, estimates that the measures in the Bill will result in an extra £1.7 billion for the entertainment industry over the next ten years. However, over the same period, it is estimated that consumers will pay between £290 and £500 million extra as ISPs pass their increased costs on to consumers.

Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, told the Times newspaper: “It is grossly unfair that Labour expects millions of innocent customers to pay extra each month because of the actions of a minority. By their own admission this will make broadband unaffordable to tens of thousands of people, which flies in the face of Government policy to increase take-up in disadvantaged communities.”

ISPs have been vocally opposing the Bill for some time. BT described the measures as a “collective punishment”, while Carphone Warehouse called on the entertainment industry to pay for the measures, rather than consumers.

The Digital Economy Bill, championed by Lord Mandelson, requires ISPs to send warning letters to customers who are accused of illegally sharing files. If the letters are not effective, the Bill authorises further measures, including capping download speeds and disconnecting users entirely


Piracy bill to cost broadband users extra £25/year

UK broadband users are to get a £500 million bill for tackling online piracy, according to a report in today’s Times newspaper, working out at £25 per user per year.

Ministers have confirmed that the Digital Economy Bill, which has already generated mass protest, will force ISPs to raise the costs of an average broadband subscription by £25 a year, costs associated with warning users, then slowing or stopping the connections of those who subsequently refuse to stop downloading.

Ministers have also confirmed that the measures will result in £1.7 billion in extra sales for the music and film industries, and an extra £350 million for the government in extra VAT.

Charles Dunstone of the Carphone Warehouse, who has been a vocal critic of the scheme, said, “Broadband consumers shouldn’t have to bail out the music industry. If they really think it’s worth spending vast sums of money on these measures then they should be footing the bill; not the consumer.”

A spokeman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, said, “the overall benefits to the country far outweigh the costs.”


Internet giants unite to fight copyright clause in Digital Economy Bill

Google, Facebook, Yahoo! and eBay have sent a joint open letter to Lord Mandelson urging him to reconsider plans to give the business secretary power to make new legislation regarding copyright laws.

The internet giants are objecting to a clause in the Digital Economy Bill, which had its second reading in parliament yesterday. The clause would allow the secretary of state for business to introduce new laws regarding copyright.  The government has said the purpose of giving such powers to the business secretary was to help copyright legislation keep up with changing technologies, but the move has sparked fears that it will hand over unprecedented levels of power to one individual. In the letter, the companies say that while they support the principle of protecting copyright owners, it says that clause 17 “opens the way for arbitrary measures. This power could be used, for example, to introduce additional technical measures or increase monitoring of user data even where no illegal practice has taken place”.

The companies say that they fear such a move could discourage innovation and impose unnecessary costs on industry. Broadband providers have already outlined their objections to another section of the Digital Economy Bill, which will mean that people who repeatedly download copyrighted materials without paying for them are cut off from broadband internet access. Members of the public are being urged by high profile Twitterers, including Stephen Fry and sitcom writer Graham Linehan, to sign a petition objecting to the law.