Internet piracy crackdown by US studios

Downloading films, music or games could lead to prison, if UK signs up to proposed treaty

Internet users suspected of illegally downloading films, music or games face prison sentences and substantial fines under a deal being thrashed out between Hollywood corporations and European governments.

Tough new measures proposed under a controversial copyright treaty are also believed to include secret monitoring powers to catch illegal file-sharers. The proposals have drawn harsh criticism from privacy groups and UK internet service providers which claim the American-led entertainment industry is demanding draconian powers to punish copyright infringements in order to protect its businesses. MPs want the UK to say what it knows of these negotiations and have demanded the Government places details of the talks in the library of the House of Commons.

Under the proposals being discussed, an internet user involved in the transfer of suspiciously large "packets" of data could be secretly monitored and reported by their internet service provider (ISP) to a copyright contact point. Such a referral could be triggered by the downloading of a handful of films or music videos in a month and could lead to legal action being taken by an entertainment company or a piracy enforcement agency. In the worst cases, the entertainment industry would be able to press for fines or prison sentences. Under current UK Government plans, the severest sanction would lead only to the suspension of the offender's ISP connection.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is being negotiated between the EU and countries including the United States, Mexico, Korea and Japan. The powers being discussed go much further than those contained in the UK's Digital Economy Bill which places the responsibility of detecting and identifying minor infringements firmly with the copyright holder, not the ISP. British and European ISPs gave warning last night that the proposals threaten fundamental privacy and criminal-justice rights and put the freedom of the internet at risk.

A spokesman for the UK's ISP Association said that its members had concerns that the deal could lead to criminal sanctions beyond the civil penalties aimed at illegal file-sharing that are currently being proposed by the UK Government.

The European privacy watchdog has also issued an official warning over the threat to the right of privacy and data protection. Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, said that governments should consider less intrusive measures to combat internet piracy. Prison sentences should be used only as a last resort and only against very serious cases of copy infringement involving big business, he said.

Richard Clayton, an expert in internet security at Cambridge University, said the plans were driven by "Hollywood industries" who had an unrealistic appreciation of what ISPs could do. "It is not possible for an ISP to reliably identify whether a data packet is a Britney Spears film or a home movie of children downloaded for the grandparents," he said. "This is a disproportionate response to this problem that will end up targeting innocent internet users."

David Lammy, the Minister of State for Intellectual Property, has said he could not put papers about ACTA in the House of Commons library because other countries wanted details kept secret. But Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat's shadow culture, media and sport secretary, has now written to Lord Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, demanding he "come clean" on what the agreement means for UK legislation.

Freeloading: The threat from illegal music downloads

*The UK creative industries claim that 50 per cent of net traffic in the UK is in fact illegal file-sharing.

*Creative industries bodies argue that such illegal file-sharing threatens 800,000 of the sector's 1.8m jobs. It has been estimated that 4,000 jobs were lost in 2004 as a result of the illegal downloading of music.

*The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry claims that

95 per cent of all downloaded music is downloaded illegally and not paid for.

*The Motion Picture Association of America estimated it lost $2.3bn (£1.5bn) to internet piracy in 2005.

*In 1997, 78m singles were sold in the UK; last year, it was just 8.6m.

*A recent survey found 70 per cent of those aged 15 to 24 do not feel guilty about downloading music for free.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Reach Volunteering: Volunteer Trustee with Management, Communications and Fundraising

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission, Benefits, OTE £100k: SThree: ...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada