Yesterday UCISA submitted its response to the Government’s latest proposals on the legislative options for dealing with illicit peer to peer filesharing. The issue has been around for some time – it was first raised in the initial paper on Digital Britain – but the initial drafts were not clear as to what was meant by the term ISP. Although the term is in common enough use that it is usually perceived as referring to a commercial provider of internet services, there is a risk that without a clear definition other providers of internet services, whether commercial or private, could be caught by any subsequent legislation. Given that universities and colleges provide internet access for their staff and students, we needed to ensure that the proposals were clear if the sector was not going to be saddled with an additional legislative burden. Thankfully the latest draft was far clearer – the legislation will only apply to commercial service providers.
The latest consultation included the proposal to include the option for suspending internet access for repeat offenders. The paper made it clear that this would only be used as a last resort and recognised that in such an event it was possible that other innocent members of a household could be punished as a result. Clearly there’s a risk that, in some student houses in the private sector where institutional regulations do not apply, access may be cut off due to an errant resident. That said, similar legislation has proved difficult to introduce and implement in other countries so it may prove a step too far in the UK.
Inside institutions there are regulations for computer use that specifically highlight the illegality of breach of copyright (UCISA has drafted model regulations for institutions to use). Universities and colleges link such regulations with disciplinary measures so any breaches of copyright or illicit filesharing are usually dealt with quickly. However the sector may need to demonstrate that it continues to keep on top of the problem and to deal with any breaches in a timely and effective manner. The rights holders lobby is strong and seem to have the current Government’s ear – there is a risk that if they are not satisfied that the proposed legislation meets their needs then they will seek to extend it to private networks.