David Prosser: Bringing the web pirates to justice

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Outlook None of the internet service providers like Lord Mandelson's plans to force them to cut off the broadband accounts of customers who persistently flout file-sharing rules. Earlier this week, the Business Secretary said tough new rules would come into force from July 2011. That prompted warnings from some ISPs yesterday that they might even seek to challenge the rules on the grounds that taking away someone's broadband would be a breach of their human rights.

Best of luck with that. Tough though Lord Mandelson's approach may be, it almost certainly does not constitute a breach of European law. The French are already introducing almost identical rules, while Europe's courts have rejected a Spanish case brought on exactly the sort of grounds the UK ISPs are discussing. The European Court of Justice said internet users' right to broadband would have to be considered in the context of the right of copyright owners not to have their work pinched.

This is not to say the Government does not have more work to do to convince people its crackdown on file-sharing is practical. Above all, it is not yet clear how ISPs will have to implement the rules. How can they be sure they're targeting the right person, for example, and who will it be that makes the final decision, after appeals, to cut someone off? In addition, what proportion of the costs of the process, which could be high, will be absorbed by rights- holders rather than the ISPs?

Still, Lord Mandelson occupies the moral high ground here. It may be difficult to crack down on file-sharing – and rights holders would be wise to think of ways to persuade people to start paying for their work – but the law cannot simply ignore the theft of intellectual property.

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