Sep 2012 20

On Tuesday, Ofcom’s consultation on the initial obligations for costs sharing relating to the Digital Economy Act closed. The consultation sought feedback on the fees that will be paid by copyright holders, ISPs and alleged infringers as part of the process outlined in the Digital Economy Act.

The Digital Economy Act was passed in the wash up prior to the 2010 election. A ‘graduated response’ was established as part of the Initial Obligations Code and Technical Obligations Code. Essentially, ISPs will impose technical measures on individuals or households accused of repeat copyright infringement that may include disconnection from the Internet among other proposals. The cost obligations were finally announced just over a year ago as part of the implementation process. Copyright holders would be all of Ofcom’s costs and 75 per cent of ISPs while ISPs would pay 25 per cent of the costs incurred. An appeals fee of £20 would be charged for all of those accused, rightly or wrongly, of illegal file sharing. And these are the payment terms that Ofcom was consulting on.

The Digital Economy Act is an ill-conceived and written piece of legislation which has had many critics over the last two and half years. While copyright infringement is illegal, those accused of it should not be subjected to an extra-judicial process at the expense of the taxpayer. It is estimated that the set up costs for the DEA scheme will be around £12.5 and the annual costs will be between £4.9 and £9.1 million.

But the most concerning thing is that there is no guarantee that members of the MPAA, BPI or indeed any other copyright holders will use the scheme laid out in the Digital Economy Act. In other words, if copyright holders choose not to use this process, the set-up and running costs will not be recouped. In France, a similar law required that an anti-piracy agency was set up called Hadopi. In the 2 years since its initiation, it has only sued 14 people at the cost of €12 million euros to French taxpayers.

Is this really the best way use of taxpayers’ money? And is this the best way forward? The court system and due process exists so that a person accused of an illegal activity can make their case in public and in front of a jury. A person accused of copyright infringement should not have to pay £20 to appear in front of an extra-judicial body. Furthermore, asking the taxpayer to foot the bill for something that may not even be used is a waste of money at any time, let alone when savings need to be made.

Dominique has spent over 12 years in the Internet industry, and focuses on net neutrality and government regulation online.