UK ISPs: ‘We’re not Responsible for Illegal File-Sharing on Our Networks’

UK Internet Service Providers Association responds to recent Belgian court ruling that an ISP must either block or filter copyrighted material on P2P and file-sharing networks.

Last week it was noted that on June 29th, the the Court of First Instance of Brussels ordered the ISP Scarlet to adopt one of eleven technical measures put forward by a court-appointed expert in order to prevent Internet users from illegally downloading copyrighted music content of The Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (SABAM) using P2P and file-sharing software.

IFPI Chairman and CEO John Kennedy immediately praised the news, saying that “This is an extremely significant ruling which bears out exactly what we have been saying for the last two years – that the internet’s gatekeepers, the ISPs, have a responsibility to help control copyright-infringing traffic on their networks.”

“The court has confirmed that the ISPs have both a legal responsibility and the technical means to tackle piracy. This is a decision that we hope will set the mould for government policy and for courts in other countries in Europe and around the world, Kennedy said.

In response to the recent ruling, the UK’s Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) has announced that it is opposed to such a move to make ISPs “play judge and jury” whenever customers are suspected of engaging in copyright infringement.

An ISPA representative commented that “What we wouldn’t want is corporate censorship. Any kind of censorship of the Internet has to be at the government level. ISPs are not law enforcement. We understand that ISPs play a part in combating instances of illegal activity on the Internet, which is why we engage with rights holders and work with government authorities on that basis, but we wouldn’t say we’re the gatekeepers of the Internet. The people responsible for unlawful content going up on the Internet are the people who put it there.”

In the Belgian case of ISP Scarlet, the court refused to accept its argument that “…the requested technical measures came down to imposing a duty of supervision of the entire P2P activities, which is contrary to the legislation on E-commerce,” instead determining that the termination order does not impose a general obligation to monitor its network since the solutions identified by the expert are “technical instruments” that limit themselves to blocking or filtering certain information transmitted on its network. The court said that its ruling does not constitute a general obligation to monitor the network.

Moreover, the court found that content filtering and blocking software does not not deal with any personal data and that a blocking measure has a purely technical and automatic character, as the ISP is not playing any active role in the blocking or filtering. This may make it tough for UK ISPs to battle the measure in court since it was previously determined to be a “purely technical and automatic” measure.

In any event, if other ISPs are ordered to begin filtering copyrighted content from being shared on P2P and file-sharing networks I think the public will most likely step in to either get the law changed or demand far cheaper pricing, which means less revenue and infrastructure needs for the ISP. After all, why would they choose to shell out some $50 bucks a month for high speed internet connections if their own ISP is filtering what content they can download or share, especially if it’s these very users who are the ones responsible for demanding ever faster internet connections in the first place. I don’t think you need 800kB/s download and 80 kB/s upload speeds just to view web pages or watch YouTube videos.