UK gov't mulls banning illegal downloaders from Internet

Web users who illegally download music, movies and other digital media may be cut off.

The UK government is considering cutting off Internet access for web users who illegally download music, movies and other digital media.

According to leaked to the Times newspaper, the UK government is currently working on legislation that would require Internet carriers to take responsibility for any pirated content transmitted over their networks. According to the drafts obtained by the Times, all ISPs will be required to institute a "three strikes" policy against any users who are caught pirating copyrighted material over their networks. Each first offense will require a written warning sent from the ISP via e-mail, while a second offense will mandate a suspension of the user's account. Third offenses will result in termination of user accounts, the Times reports, thus effectively banning illegal downloaders from having Web access.

, British ISPs have been conducting behind-the-scenes talks with the entertainment industry and the government over cracking down on Internet piracy for over a year. The British Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), a trade group for UK ISPs, has told the that if its members are required to cut off service to alleged Web pirates, then it wants the recording industry to underwrite the cost of lawsuits brought on by users who were wrongfully disconnected from service.

Similar legislation aimed at curbing illegal downloading is also in the works in France. According to the , the French government is currently working on a bill that would require ISPs to send warning letters to illegal downloaders for their first two offenses, and to cut off their service for a third offense.

ISPs in the United States bear no legal responsibility for the legality of the content that goes through their networks, and thus have no obligations to filter or screen user content. However, this doesn't prevent American carriers from voluntarily taking more responsibility for what gets sent over their networks.

For instance, James Cicconi, AT&T's senior vice president for external & legal affairs, made waves when he said his company was working with the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America to implement a digital-fingerprinting scheme and would detect and filter out copyrighted material from its network.

This announcement led to speculation that such a scheme could jeopardize AT&T's legal immunity from transmitting copyrighted material. According to U.S. law, (

carriers can only maintain their liability as long as "the transmission [of copyrighted content] is carried out through an automatic technical process without selection of the material by the service provider" or if "the material is transmitted through the system or network without modification of its content."

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