Britain is to push ahead with a law to clamp down on illegal file sharing, that would start with a series of warning letters and could result in repeat offenders losing their Internet connection.
The proposals, which were set out by Business Secretary Peter Mandelson, have followed a high-profile campaign from artists such as Lily Allen and James Blunt, and follow France’s move to ban illegal peer-to-peer sharers for up to a year.
The rules could disappoint some of the artists and executives who have campaigned for the law, however, as the government does not plan to introduce the disconnection element of the law for at least a year, once the bill has passed.
Under the British proposals, the new law could be passed by April and rights holders such as music companies and Internet service providers would work together for over a year to send letters to those who are uploading illegal content.
The government hopes that the warning letters will prompt many to curb their activity but after that time, if the rate of illegal downloading has not significantly declined, the government could then introduce technical measures such as slowing broadband speeds and eventual suspension.
“It must become clear that the days of consequence-free widespread online infringement are over,” Mandelson told a cabinet creative industries conference. “Technical measures will be a last resort and I have no expectation of mass suspensions.”
Mandelson told reporters the government had not caved in to the music and film lobby and said they were simply establishing a framework of law.
“It’s not lawful to thieve other people’s creative work, what we’re doing is creating new measures that will bring the law up to date, make it enforceable and clearly understood, so we can touch the first base which is to educate people.
“Most people don’t think it is illegal, most people think it is a victimless practice that everyone does and why shouldn’t they?”
The debate over how to counter illegal file sharing has raged in Britain for the last 18 months, with rights holders and media groups calling on Internet service providers (ISPs) to intervene and disconnect repeat offenders.
The government has released letters of support from media executives, such as Sony Music and Time Warner, music managers and artists, such as Elton John and Noel Gallagher.
However, two of the largest ISPs, BT and Carphone Warehouse , have so far objected to their new role as policemen of the Web and are likely to continue to object.
Mandelson said the new law would be similar to the rules passed recently in France, but said they had not yet agreed on how long any suspension would last.
“I was shocked to learn that only one of every 20 tracks downloaded in the UK is downloaded legally,” he said. “The British government’s view is that taking people’s work without due payment is wrong and that, as an economy based on creativity, we cannot sit back and do nothing as this happens.”