How anti filesharing laws could affect you

neil hawkins
By Neil Hawkins

filesharing pirate bay

Millions of us share files and peer to peer is responsible for most of the world's web traffic.

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

How might this affect you as a web user? That's the question we set out to answer with this guide.

Digital Economy Act (DEA)

Illegal filesharing was once an issue talked about but largely ignored.

However, digital anti piracy laws bought in under the Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2010 could change all that.

The Act, which passed in the wash just before the 2010 election, contains a large section - 3 to 13 (previously 18) - that specifically relate to copyright infringement: ISPs should 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 details an appeals process for suspensions (section 13).

As we update this article in June 2014, none of this has been implemented.

But let's look at what is likely to be implemented in the near future.

A ticking off from the postman

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

That is, a letter which claims that someone - not necessarily you - has downloaded copyrighted material using your internet connection and asks for financial compensation.

After more than four years of discussions, ISPs agreed to send these letters in May 2014. The first ones will go out in 2015.

The legality of these letters is currently highly dubious and as evidence - identifying and linking an IP address to a particular internet account - has not been robust enough to obtain a court conviction.

Letters of this form are normally 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.

People likely to be affected by this activity are either those, downloading copyrighted material or those potentially allowing copyrighted material to be shared via their broadband connection.

Three strikes and you're offline

The DEA includes a 'three strikes' rule which allows for the internet connection of persistent copyright infringers to be disconnected.

However, this doesn't seem to be coming to fruition any time soon.

The ISPs have agreed to four 'strikes', or warning letters, but not to any further action and they remain extremely unwilling to do that.

Note also that, as of November 2012, customers do not include providers of public wi-fi - for example, a coffee shop with free internet - only private households.

If these laws do become enforced a problem will be the appeals system, which the Open Rights Group's Jim Killock has criticised.

"The appeals are a joke," he said. "The government has decided that 'I didn't do it' is not a defence. Some people will almost certainly end up in court having done nothing wrong."

Access to individual sites: effective blockage

Much more disruptive to ordinary internet users are the blocks that prevent access to individual sites.

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.

Since being blacklisted by ISPs however, TPB has 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 filesharing activity across its network, that 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 spoke to the BBC saying that, "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."

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 in existence are used.

However, UK BitTorrent traffic did dip 20% in 2013 a decrease that, rights holders at least, have been keen to put down to site blocking.