U.K. denies harsher file-sharing penalties

Reports say sanctions, blocked access under consideration

LONDON -- The U.K. government has rebuffed reports that it is set to impose tougher penalties on illegal file-sharers than the measures already proposed.

Media outlets reported that Lord Mandelson, secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, had ordered that the legislative measures be beefed up to include sanctions such as fines and cutting off of Internet access.

There are also reports that, during a holiday, Mandelson had an Aug. 7 meeting with DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen in Corfu. However, a spokesman for Mandelson told the Times that "there was no discussion" about the P2P proposals with Geffen, a critic of illegal file-sharing.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills tells Billboard.biz that the reports contained "speculation" and that the consultation process on legislation continues.

The BIS has published its Digital Britain implementation plan, which outlines the officials tasked with driving each aspect of the legislation. The measures are set to be included in the Nov. 18 Queen's Speech, which presents the government's bills to Parliament.

Following consultation, the final legislative proposals could differ from the Digital Britain report in June, which stated that media and telecoms regulator Ofcom should be given powers to use technical measures (such as bandwidth squeezing) against persistent copyright infringers, if there is not a significant (70%) reduction in file-sharing within 12 months.

However, there is no indication that the U.K. government is considering legislating to make it possible for courts to impose £50,000 ($81,500) fines on the worst offenders. As previously reported, separate from measures to tackle illegal file-sharing, the Digital Britain report did propose matching the online and physical IP infringement penalties, with a statutory maximum penalty of £50,000 ($81,500) for all IP offenses. The online penalty is currently £5,000 ($8,100).

Even the reported threat of tough sanctions against illegal file-sharers prompted one former government minister to hit out, though.

"Not only do the sanctions ultimately risk criminalizing a large proportion of U.K. citizens, but they also attach an unbearable burden on an emerging technology that has the power to transform society, with no guarantees at the end that our artists and our culture will get any richer," wrote Tom Watson, former digital engagement minister, in the Independent on Sunday.