Government plans on illegal downloaders 'misconceived'

Government plans to suspend the internet accounts of people who illegally download films and music are "misconceived" and "threaten broadband consumers' rights", according to the chief executives of Britain's biggest internet providers.

In a letter to The Times, Charles Dunstone of TalkTalk, Ian Livingston of BT and Tom Alexander of Orange UK criticised the proposals on how to reduce illegal filesharing announced last month, which include the possibility of disconnecting accounts.

The letter, also signed by Deborah Prince of Which?, Ed Mayo of Consumer Focus and Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group, said innocent consumers would suffer.

They said: "Consumers must be presumed to be innocent unless proven guilty. We must avoid an extrajudicial 'kangaroo court' process where evidence is not tested properly and accused broadband users are denied the right to defend themselves against false accusations.

"Without these protections innocent customers will suffer. Any penalty must be proportionate. Disconnecting users from the internet would place serious limits on their freedom of expression."

The authors of the letter also criticised proposals that internet providers, and by implication broadband customers, should pay the cost of the measures, saying this would be "grossly unfair since the vast majority of consumers do not fileshare illegally".

The letter said the measures would "threaten broadband users' rights and the development of new attractive services" and could be met with "significant consumer resistance".

The proposals were defended by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson after they were laid out last month.

The total loss to the whole audio visual industry through copyright theft, including file sharing, home burning and borrowing of other people's fake DVDs was £486 million in 2007, an IPSOS survey found, and around 6.5 million Britons downloaded music and films illegally within the 12 months up to July last year.

Virgin Media, another of the big Internet Service Providers, which did not sign the letter, has warned that "persuasion not coercion" is the key.

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