The government recently published a Green Paper on the creative economy. It contained an addendum at odds with the bubbly tone of the rest of the report; a proposal for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to monitor user activity for copyright infringement, warn them against downloading copyrighted material, and block their internet access after three warnings.
Why? Pressured by the entertainment industry, the government is moving to stem the tide of filesharing. Filesharing is an amoral distribution method. It can drain artist and company profits by allowing users to own material for free, and at its extremes, it chips away at the economic viability of artistic endeavour. But it also offers myriad opportunities for publicity and distribution – think of the iTunes store, BBC’s iPlayer and Kate Nash. Yet while many companies are adapting to new possibilities, others are pushing for restrictions.
The government’s proposals will interfere with civil liberties. While mitigating a situation in which downloaders are subject to enormous fines, they give rise to a host of new problems. Maintaining nationwide user bans would require the constant monitoring of online activity and the sharing of data on individuals between corporations and government.
On top of ethical objections (rights to privacy), there are many practical problems. These include; users encrypting data, issues of liability when internet connections are shared; and the fact that such moves would criminalise millions.
So will the proposals come into force any time soon? European Human right legislation states that such interferences with individual privacy are only justified if ‘proportional’ to their good effects.
Given practical, legal and ethical objections, the government’s measures are unlikely to pass this test. The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has already indicates its opposition. Sensitive to the unpopularity amongst consumers that stricter monitoring would bring, ISPs have been resisting the entertainment industry’s calls for some time.
Clear government support however, heralds a new development. Pocket Issue: Big Brother will bring you much more on this in Autumn 2008, discussing the balance between technology, surveillance and privacy. It will be interesting to see how the situation develops.