U.K. gov't eyes digital rights agency

Considering legislation to tackle P2P activity

LONDON -- The U.K. government has begun consultation on a proposed digital rights agency to encourage legitimate online entertainment services and reduce piracy, while warning that it will consider far-reaching legislation to tackle P2P activity if the biz does not work to find a solution.

Legislative options under discussion in this consultation still include tough measures such as a code of practice that would mean ISPs would enforce protocol blocking (restricting access to certain sites) and bandwidth capping for repeat offenders, the government said Thursday.

Lord Carter, minister of state for communications, technology and broadcasting, is preparing the Digital Britain report for early summer. The interim report included proposals for a rights agency.

The government on Thursday issued a paper inviting views on the role of such an agency. Creators, commercial rights-holders and consumer groups are being asked to respond to the discussion paper, which explores the impact it would have in combating unlawful online file-sharing and piracy.

"A properly worked out rights agency could be a real step forward," said minister of state for intellectual property David Lammy in a statement. "We can't have a system where even net-surfing 12-year-olds have to understand copyright in order to keep themselves and their parents safe within the law."

In their joint introduction, Lammy and Carter make clear that the industry must engage fully to "facilitate a major change of approach across the whole value chain as to how content is provided, packaged and sold to consumers."

However, they add that if there is not cooperation on the complementary legislative measures to create a robust self-regulatory framework, then the government will step in to tackle P2P file-sharing.

"It has to be made to work by the industry participants, and if there isn't evidence of a real commitment from industry to that by the time we legislate then we will have to consider whether the legislation should go further in what it requires, with less opportunity to influence how this can be done in an effective, flexible, pragmatic (and fair) way," Lammy and Carter continue.

"This is not our preferred option, and nor should it be seen as the preferred choice by any industry stakeholders. But the government's objective of significantly reducing the level of online copyright infringement and in particular unlawful P2P file-sharing (of which we set ourselves a target last year to achieve that reduction within two to three years), should not be doubted. Without it, legitimate business will struggle to survive, let alone grow, and we will deliver on it."

Lammy added in his statement: "The real prize here is a rights agency that sorts out the complexities that keep consumers on the right side of the law, and ensure artists get properly paid. We need to make it easier for consumers to do the right thing."

Key issues raised in the discussion paper, published by the Intellectual Property Office, include how to educate and change consumer behavior regarding copyrighted material; measures to support industry efforts in developing new legal ways for consumers to access content; how to support legislation to address consumer activity that breaches civil copyright law and tackle persistent infringement; and methods of technical copyright-support solutions that work for both consumers and content creators.

Issues for consultation on the legislative action on file-sharing include measures to make it easier for rights holders to target the worst offenders and take legal action, and for ISPs to make it clear to subscribers that P2P activity is not anonymous. There is also a proposal for a binding code of conduct that would include measures for ISPs to restrict the network access of repeat offenders, with the rights agency to have a role to oversee enforcement.

There are also questions surrounding whether or not the rights agency should be an independent industry body with back-up legal powers held by government regulator Ofcom, and how it can be funded.

Comments on the discussion paper -- which is characterized as a 'straw man' consultation to provoke argument -- are due by March 30.

The consultation is a joint initiative by the Department for Business, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.