A new system will see warning letters sent out to customers whose internet connections are being used to illegally share music and films. It’s good in principle, but should we have to pay to appeal?
The new system, proposed by Ofcom and the government, is part of the Digital Economy Act, intended to protect copyright holders in creative industries by blocking illegal file sharing.
Individuals will be able to appeal if they feel they’ve been unfairly accused of file sharing. You’re not appealing against court action (at this stage) or disconnection, but against the accusation. But I’m concerned that many customers just won’t bother.
The idea of broadband providers adhering to a code of conduct has actually been bandied around for some time. It was initially consulted on way back in May 2010, but despite the not insignificant time taken to try and get this right, there are a still couple of things in there that are concerning.
Paying for the right to appeal
The first is the appeal fee that will apply. If a customer wants to appeal an allegation there’ll only be 20 days to do so, but more worryingly, it will cost you £20.
And although you’ll get your money back if the appeal is successful, should you have to pay a fee to defend your name? I can’t think of a single other example of where this type of pre-paying to defend your name might apply. It’s essentially assuming guilt from the outset.
You could receive multiple warning letters (no more than one per month) and appeal at any stage (as long as you’re within the 20-day limit), but receive three or more letters in a 12-month period and things get heavier. The copyright owner can be alerted to the infringement on the customer’s account – at this stage it can be done anonymously. But the owner could then go on to seek a court order to identify the customer, potentially allowing them to take legal action against you.
Many sharing one internet connection
The other issue that worries me is whether these notification letters are going to the right people? The Department for Culture Media and Sport has said the letters will go to ‘account holders’ which suggests that the named person who pays the bills will be notified.
But what about the many houses where more than one user shares the connection?
I live in a shared house where only one of us is named on the bill, but what would happen if someone else in the house was illegally accessing content? Thankfully, we all get on quite well. But if we didn’t, and an issue like this cropped up, I can imagine a few problems arising.
We’re not alone in raising concerns over the issue and we’re worried people don’t currently have enough access to free advice and information on their rights in this situation. Consumer Focus has campagined on this issue over the years and feel that ‘people who are innocent should not have to pay a fee to challenge accusations’.
We’ll be working with other consumer groups and the government to iron out some of our concerns over the Digital Economy Act. But do you think it’s acceptable to pay a £20 fee, or should we be given the benefit of the doubt?