How anti filesharing laws could affect you

pirate bay

MILLIONS of us share files and peer to peer (P2P) is responsible for most of the world's web traffic.

That, copyright holders say, is costing the creative industries millions of pounds in revenue and, with a little help from the UK Government, they plan on putting a stop to it.

How might this affect us when we're using the web? That's the question we set out to answer with this guide.

Digital Economy Act 2010

Illegal filesharing was once an issue talked about but largely ignored, even after efforts to address it in the Digital Economy Act 2010.

The Act included numerous sections specifically relating to copyright infringement, calling for ISPs to send letters to those accused of infringement (section 3), keep a list of repeat offenders (section 4) and, when customers offend repeatedly, restrict speeds or access and ultimately suspend the service (section 9).

Another section detailed an appeals process for suspensions (section 13).

While much of this Act failed to be passed into law, these sections were - although it took until 2014 for the Government and ISPs to reach an agreement about how to implement this legislation, and it's taken even longer for them to actually do so.

Then, in 2016, the Conservative Government introduced the Digital Economy Bill. This includes further protection from copyright infringement and tougher sentences for those found guilty of breaking the law.

The Bill is still progressing through Parliament, and on its journey it's had amendments added requiring search engines not to list sites linked to piracy.

Here's how these regulations affect, or are likely to affect, us.

A ticking off from the postman

One of the ways we'll see these laws come into action is in the form of "educational" letters.

As mentioned above, it took more than four years of discussion before ISPs agreed in May 2014 to send these notices - but it's taken until early 2017 for the first to be sent, in collaboration with Get It Right From A Genuine Site.

Unlike the copyright infringement warning letters sent out by legal firms on behalf of rights holders, which claim that someone has downloaded copyrighted material using our internet connection and asking for financial compensation, the ISP's "alerts" are purely informative.

Subscribers suspected of using "unlawful" P2P file sharing networks can expect to receive an email telling them that someone has been using their connection for such purposes, listing the suspected infringements, and directing them to sites where they can get legal versions of that content if available.

Repeat infringers - or those whose IP address is continually used for such activity - may well get multiple letters, but they should be given at least a 20-day grace period between each one, to give them time to change their ways or secure their connection.

"Speculative invoicing"

There should be no kind of threat or demand made - so no one should be told they face having their connection throttled or disconnected, and there definitely shouldn't be any suggestion that we must pay compensation.

Letters of this form have been sent out by rights holders who have obtained a list of IP addresses and sought a court order to force an ISP to hand over details of the relevant customers.

As was demonstrated in the now famous O2 versus Golden Eye case, whilst judges may be willing to hand over the details of customers, the courts will not accept over inflated valuations of supposed damages.

Access to individual sites: effective blockage

What's more likely to be disruptive to ordinary internet users are the efforts to block access to individual sites.

One of the amendments to the 2016 Digital Economy Bill is the insertion of a clause calling for search engine providers enter into a "voluntary agreement" with copyright holders, or face having one imposed on them by the Government.

The idea seems to be that search engine will be required to restrict access to site known to provide illegal content - and under the terms of the amendment, the Government would also have the power to investigate and sanction search engines that fail to comply with the agreed code of practice.

As yet the Bill isn't law, so it's uncertain if or when this measure will come into effect.

Instead, we've seen courts ordering ISPs to block access to some of the biggest pirate websites.

The first judgement ordered the UK's largest broadband providers to block access to the website, The Pirate Bay. Many others have since been blocked.

But The Pirate Bay have consistently been one step ahead of the game, springing up again and again thanks to various proxy websites.

One ISP reported to the BBC that, after witnessing a drop in file sharing activity across their network following such a block, activity had since returned to "just below normal" levels and a month on the impact was even more unclear.

The leader of Pirate Party UK, Loz Kaye told the BBC at the time, "blocking is an ineffective method... It's not in any way productive. Anyone who knows anything about how the internet works can get around it."

UK BitTorrent traffic did dip 20% in 2013 - a decrease that, rights holders at least, have been keen to put down to site blocking - but in recent years there's been a noticeable drop in torrent traffic as a result of pirate providers moving to direct download and streaming sites instead.

Here at Choose we don't believe anyone should ever download music or films they don't have the right to. However we also believe that having websites blocked by court order only to have them reappear in an accessible, identical form almost immediately is a futile exercise and a waste of time and money for taxpayers and broadband providers.

The cat and mouse method used to block these sites - adding the IP address of the site to a blacklist - could become rather tiresome once all 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 IPv6 addresses coming into existence are used.

» Read more of the latest news

» Search for more guides on broadband and mobile

Follow us or subscribe for FREE updates and special offers