UK Prime Minister Denies Three Strikes Proposal… After Europe Tossed It

In an odd turn of events, British prime minister has denied that a three strikes proposal for p2p users is in the works.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

What makes this so strange is the fact that he announced this days after the three strikes proposal was rejected by the European Union.

There’s a well documented revelation that appeared on P2P-Blog recently about the British prime minister denying that the file-sharing “three strike” policy was being considered. We’ll highlight why this revelation is seems to be misleading.

First, p2p-blog points us to a blog posting made by the prime minister. It’s in response to a petition calling on the prime minister to not force Internet Service Providers to spy on it’s users in an effort to monitor for copyrighted content. Then, if there is suspicion, then there would be a three strike policy put in place.

“Unfortunately,” the prime minister responded, “much of the media reports around this issue have been incorrect. There are no proposals to make ISPs liable for the content that travels across their networks. Nor are there proposals for ISPs to monitor customer activity for illegal downloading, or to enforce a “3 strikes” policy.”

He further explained what is actually happening (according to him):

· educates consumers and citizens about the importance of recognising and rewarding content and the dangers of unlawful downloading;
· encourages the content and telecoms industries to concentrate on ensuring that content is made available to consumers in a variety of attractive packages; and
· takes action to ensure that where file sharing still happens people are made aware of the unlawful nature of their actions and effective mechanisms for dealing with repeat offenders are identified.

This kind of, ‘no, we’re not monitoring file-sharers’, on the surface, flies in the face of the case back in July where it was announced that ISPs will be monitoring p2p users. There is one tiny detail that many should be aware of – it isn’t the government that is spying on British p2p users, but copyright holders pressuring ISPs to spy on p2p users. This was all part of the so-called “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoU). So, has the British government washed its hands clean of the MoU? Not really.

As we highlighted, just shortly after the MoU was announced, a letter from the government was leaked. Recall gems like this:

“Although this letter has no effect on the agreement, which stands in its own terms, this may help to ensure all signatories have the same expectations,” Vadera wrote.

“I would regard a reduction as ‘significant’ if it had reduced the number of people filesharing unlawfully in the UK by well over 50%, and we hope in the region of 70%-80% from a baseline to be agreed, with work to start immediately, rather than waiting for legislation.”

The Prime Minister, in his posting, doesn’t deny that the government has a roll in the MoU, but one can easily point to the fact that the government played a major roll in the deal since one of it’s own ministers was, among other things, projecting a reduction of file-sharing by 80%. The government pressured, but the ISPs and the copyright industry executed. It’s very clever of the prime minister to deny that the government, itself, is spying on p2p users, however, it doesn’t change the fact that p2p users are to be under surveillance by their own ISPs for p2p traffic. To our knowledge, the British government didn’t deny what was said in the letter at this time.

There is another way that this response is seemingly misleading. Pay attention to the dates of both the response from the government and the date the petition was sent. The petition was sent August 25th, 2008. The governments response was posted on October 3rd, 2008. So? What’s the big deal? Recall European proposal earlier this year which said at one point, among other things, “This cooperation of Internet service providers should include the use of filtering technologies to prevent their networks being used to infringe intellectual property, the removal from the networks or the blocking of content that infringes intellectual property, and the enforcement of their contractual terms and conditions, which permit them to suspend or terminate their contracts with those subscribers who repeatedly or on a wide scale infringe intellectual property” This led to the idea that the telecom package would ban p2p users as well.

So, when European laws in the Union get passed, it’s highly likely that the member states integrate it into their laws. So the government could, in effect, push the whole spying business. All this is very real except for one tiny little thing – the proposals in question were rejected late last month. So now that the proposals are no longer there, the British government appears to take the moral high-road and saying, in effect, “Look! It’s not on the table! The reports were wrong!”

Suggesting that the reports on these issues is probably the most misleading thing because, when the petition was made, the European proposal to ban p2p users was actually on the table. This kind of thing seems to be designed to deflate a tense situation by making concerned users look like people who are crying wolf by an age old technique of bending the truth.

Such tactics aren’t really new when it deals with copyright. In Canada, there were fears that ACTA would get people searched at the border for possessing something like an iPod. There was pressure mounting on the minister responsible for copyright, but when he tabled a copyright reform legislation, he immediately told the media that no one is getting searched at the border through the legislation and suggested that reports were misleading. Again, one tiny detail is the fact that many of the reports said that this proposal was originating in ACTA, not the copyright reform legislation.

There is one last twist to this. It’s what has been covered off and on all year – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. It is unclear what is in the agreement because it was never made public. However, there have been leaked documents that gave everyone hints as to what would be on there (the latest on ACTA) So really, for all we know, the three strikes proposal might get resurrected on ACTA. This is one way that the three strike proposal might regain legislative steam again – though it would be foolish to rule out any other proposals being made in the mean time.

Further reading:

British p2p consultation (British users and companies have been encouraged to participate in this)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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