British ISPs may be forced to chop service to stop theft

LONDON – Britons who illegally download movies and music could have their Internet service stopped under a proposal being quietly circulated by the government.

The Times of London reported on Tuesday that file sharers would get “three strikes” before their ISPs (Internet service providers) would be legally required to shut off access, under the proposal.

The recommendation was contained in a draft copy of a strategy document from the Department for Culture Media and Sport, which is studying the U.K.’s creative industry. Under terms of the proposal expected to be finalized and then released later this month, a violator would receive an e-mail warning for the first offense, be suspended the second time and then be booted from the Internet.

A ministry spokeswoman said the newspaper obtained a draft of the proposal that is several months old and was circulated to stakeholders for comment. The “three-strikes” provision is no longer accurate, she said, but she declined to answer more questions about the document.

The idea would essentially require ISPs to monitor people’s activity on the Internet and then intervene on behalf of the copyright holders. The entertainment industry supports the idea, but opponents say it amounts to an enormous intrusion on privacy and would not stop piracy.

The Internet Service Providers’ Association U.K. is not liable for illegal content that passes on its network, the group said in a statement Tuesday. That defense is codified in the European Union’s E-commerce regulations of 2002, ISPA U.K. said. Current data protection laws also prevent ISPs from examining transmitted content, the group said.

ISPA U.K. also claimed technical restrictions: “ISPs are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the post office is able to open every envelope.”

The U.K. branch of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said in a statement on Tuesday it hoped for “swift action” by ISPs to disconnect persistent copyright infringers.

The proposal comes as European countries are wrangling with how to protect copyright holders and deal with illegal file sharing on P-to-P (peer-to-peer) networks such as BitTorrent and eDonkey.

In 2006, France made unauthorized file sharing punishable by up to six months in prison and a fine of

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