UK Government to Back 3 Strikes and You’re Out for File Sharers?

The Times reports on a government paper to be published which will recommend a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy for illegal file sharers, to be implemented by ISPs:

“Users suspected of wrongly downloading films or music will receive a warning e-mail for the first offence, a suspension for the second infringement and the termination of their internet contract if caught a third time, under the most likely option to emerge from discussions about the new law. Broadband companies who fail to enforce the “three-strikes” regime would be prosecuted and suspected customers’ details could be made available to the courts”

The music industry has typically been the hardest hit by file sharing, but as broadband speeds increase and content availability augments the movie and TV industries are feeling the pinch also. Thus far an inclusive approach has been pursued across much of Europe, but there are no real results to be shown. Indeed music and video file sharing in the UK alone has grown by nearly half in just the last two years and our latest data suggests an upturn in key European markets where the trend had been static or negative.

Of course there are many question marks over such a proposed strategy, such as ensuring that the list of networks is comprehensive, otherwise users of popular networks (probably the least ardent users) could effectively be targeted whilst more savvy users use undetected networks. Also, Jupiter’s research shows that non-network sharing (e.g. Instant Messaging, email) is now just as big a threat. Add to that the issue of invite only ‘darknets’ and picture gets even more complicated. The tap can never be completely turned off.

Does that mean that such action shouldn’t be pursued. No. Simply that the lesson which file sharing has taught us over the past decade is that there is no silver bullet. Action must comprise a sophisticated mix of activity. And of course it would be better for the ISPs to be willing partners. So the clock would appear to be ticking on the ISPs window of opportunity to work as willing partners without the spectre of state intervention.