Digital Britain: Rights Agency Would Oversee P2P Warnings, Aid Court Actions

The mysterious “Rights Agency” proposed in the interim Digital Britain report could provide a “gateway” for content owners to sue illegal downloaders.

Lord Carter’s report last month offered few concrete ideas for tackling P2P file-sharing beyond legislating to formally institute the warning letter campaign ISPs trialled on behalf of the BPI last year. But it also proposed a “Rights Agency” to oversee that process, to develop DRM standards and to incentivise legal downloading. Today, in a follow-up paper, Carter fleshed out how this agency might work…

Although the “legislation” Digital Britain proposes to tackle illegal P2P would merely require ISPs and content owners to share data and send letters, today’s more detailed paper warns that “the very worst (persistent) offenders” could still ultimately face civil copyright action: “Having been notified that they are behaving unlawfully, people who then carry on persistently and deliberately infringing copyright material should understand that they could find themselves in court, and facing the financial consequences.” The Rights Agency would go alongside this legislation – monitoring the warnings and legal actions under a code of practice that would be approved by Ofcom, before providing “a gateway in to the legal remedies being set out”.

But Carter’s proposals, which he admits are “deliberately narrowly drawn”, still appear uncertain. Whilst Carter is leaving court action on the table, he is undecided on how far ISPs should act on infringers, after repeated warnings but before cases go to court. He has laid out a choice – either legislation would leave it up to a Rights Agency to tell ISPs what kinds of technical measures they should bring against infringers, or the legislation would write those measures itself, risking getting left behind by technology. Measures include bandwidth caps and protocol blocking.

Illustrating Carter’s somewhat ongoing thinking, together, the papers say the Rights Agency could tackle not just illegal P2P but also “surmounting the mutual tension” between rights holders and online services. It could “facilitate negotiation and rights clearance and discussion around standards” – an influence that might have calmed the current YouTube-PRS spat. Other possible functions include “explaining the consequences of unlawful use of copyright material” to customers. Carter stressed the Rights Agency would not be a new regulator but would be “industry owned, industry led and industry-run”.

Carter’s belief he can drastically reduce illegal file sharing is informed by studies like last year’s by Entertainment Media Research, which found 70 percent of infringers would stop after one ISP warning. In today’s paper, he said: “If we can make it clear that this sort of infringement is neither anonymous nor safe, we can expect to see a rapid and substantial drop in this behaviour.” The industry has until just March 30 to comment on the paper, and needs to show consensus lest Carter foist legislation upon it.