Proposals to suspend internet connections of people caught illegally downloading copyrighted films, music, or other material, will cost each UK broadband customer about £25 a year, according to BT.
The proposals are being driven by business secretary Peter Mandelson as a means of curbing illegal downloads, which are eating into the profits of the UK’s entertainment industry.
John Petter, BT’s consumer division boss, said policing downloads could cost the industry about £1m a day.
Petter said that because broadband is a thin-margin business, there is no way any ISP, including BT, would be able to absorb the cost so it would have to be passed on to consumers.
A BT spokesman said the main cost would be the integration of new technology into the network to allow ISPs to track downloaders. Other overheads would include the costs of notifying and educating consumers on the new policy as well as enforcement costs.
“We feel that instead music labels should develop new business models,” said the spokesman.
“At the moment, they just want to outsource all their problems to ISPs. Legislation before the introduction of Digital Britain did allow music labels to go after people that downloaded copyrighted music, but they did not take advantage of it because it would have generated bad PR for themselves,” the spokesman added.
Responding to BT, a Department for Business spokesman said, "We have issued a consultation on our proposals. It is clear that the rights holders do suffer harm from file-sharing; it is also clear that tackling unlawful file-sharing will involve costs. We have asked industry for reliable figures on both the damage caused by file-sharing and on the cost these obligations will involve.”
He added, "Any decision would be based on a proper cost-benefit analysis and have to be proportionate. We hope BT will respond to the consultation and provide the information to help us make an informed decision."
No ISP has come out in support of Mandelson’s proposals, which came as a surprise to the industry given that such a move was specifically ruled out by the government’s Digital Britain report in June.
Earlier this month, the chief executives of Britain’s biggest internet providers, including BT, united to criticise the government’s latest plans.
BT’s Ian Livingston, Carphone Warehouse’s Charles Dunstone and Orange’s Tom Alexander said because the vast majority of their customers do not illegally download content, many innocent customers would suffer as a result of Mandelson’s proposals.
The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) also registered its disappointment with the government’s apparent U-turn. The ISPA has pointed out that policing downloads could contravene data protection laws that prevent ISPs from looking at the content of information over their networks.
Another problem that has been raised is how ISPs will differentiate between legitimate downloads and illegitimate ones. For example, entertainers and producers that want to share their content with people may risk causing the recipients to be falsely identified as copyright criminals.
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