David Tebbutt, Teblog

Oh dear, oh dear. Seems like our government is continuing its sleepwalk towards another disaster. What do you mean, “which one?” Okay, you have a point. Two things in particular. One is that it has a plan to shrink the police force and get neighbourhood watch members to take over some of its duties. The other, according to the Times newspaper, is to get ISPs to ban users from the internet if they are caught downloading illegal copies of copyright material.

Don’t both of these proposals sound a bit daft? In the first place, I thought we paid the government to keep us safe. Although to listen to recent news, it’s been failing spectacularly in that particular duty. Members of neighbourhood watch are a) probably scared witless to patrol the streets after dark and b) even if they caught someone, then what? The odds of the fuzz turning up in time to do anything useful is close to zero. There’s a disconnect between the government mind and reality.

Now the government is a step closer to asking ISPs to catch people who download stuff they shouldn’t, then to act as prosecutor, jury and judge. How convenient. Be seen to suck up to the entertainment moguls without actually having to do anything more than issue yet another set of regulations.

And what’s the ISP to do? Inspect every single packet that passes through its hands? Divine what the content is and issue warning emails to infringers? If they infringe again, make sure they’re disconnected. And, if they get reconnected and infringe again, ensure they never darken the internet’s doorstep again. This, apparently, can be done by notifying other ISPs of the identity of the guilty party.

It’s mad. Utterly mad. Bureaucracy gone totally insane.

Listen. With a partner I sell software online. Have done for years. We can be fairly certain that illegal copies have been made (despite our rather clever mechanisms for avoiding it). But whose responsibility is it to deal with the issue? Ours.

We try to be nice to customers so they tell others what jolly decent people we are. We try not to rip people off price-wise, although some would argue that we fail in that respect. But they wouldn’t be customers anyway, so what are we losing? Some customers pay us more than once, which suggests our price can’t be that wrong.

It’s up to us to get the business model right so that the decent majority do the right thing. It’s up to us to decide whether to chase commercial-scale infringers through the courts – a horribly expensive process and a distraction to boot.

If the government really does want to prosecute copyright infringers, then it should do it through the normal legal processes. Just as asking householders to catch criminals is mad, so is expecting ISPs to do its dirty work.

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