The United Kingdom's Digital Economy Act was supposed to make pirates shake in their boots, but most experts say that law has had little effect on illegal activity since it was introduced. Several experts converged on London to discuss why and the BBC examines all the take-aways. One of those take-aways is that the law currently languishes in Brussels, waiting for the European Commission to approve changes to who should ultimately pay for implementing it. The draft drawn up by Ofcom a year ago to lay out how it will be implemented is also sitting somewhere waiting to be acted upon, according to the BBC report.
The Digital Economy Act (DEA) was written by the Labour party government and rushed through parliament at the end of the party's power. While the law has seen many changes, it mostly serves as a "letter writing campaign" where suspected copyright infringers are warned about their activities. Three warnings leads to being put on a black list to possibly face some sort of legal action.
Trevor Albery, Warner's anti-piracy vice-president, told the conference that written warnings were only one avenue of its going battle against piracy. Now they are turning their attention to Google and Facebook, who they want to serve as police for the internet; rights holders want these companies to de-list sites that share copyrighted material.
In a recent speech UK culture minister Jeremy Hunt said that measures like these could be baked into the new Communications Act.
PRS for Music, which oversees rights issues for the music industry, is also looking at new ways of combating illegal content. Frances Lowes, its director of regulatory affairs, outlined a "traffic light system" they would like to see put on search engines to allow the public to distinguish between legal and illegal sites. The chances of Google doing that are probably somewhere between slim and none.
Rights holders are also finding quicker ways of blocking access to illegal sites at the ISP level.
Newzbin, a Usenet style service, will shortly be blocked by the UK's biggest ISP BT, following a successful court case brought by the movie industry. Of course, Newzbin has already created software to make it easy for users to basically unblock efforts at the ISP level. It is expected that other ISPs will soon face court orders to block the site.
Okke Delfos Visser, deputy general counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America could barely contain his excitement, telling the BBC:
"It is a criminal organization whose business model is based on wholesale copyright infringement."
While little victories have been won by rights holders in various European countries, most piracy groups are unphased by the threat of legal sanctions.
James Myring, from market research firm BDRC Continental reported that a new breed of "supapirates" remain unfazed. These "supapirates" are described as being tech-savvy, usually male consumers who delight in finding new ways to get at free content.
"They like the idea of getting around blocks and are happy to share what they get with friends and family as well as giving advice on how to do it," he said.
While rights holders in Europe may consider legal action the best course of action to deal with pirates, Simon Clark, head of intellectual property at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, warned copyright holders that they need to "tread carefully" if they want to bring legal proceedings because some judges are not happy with the methodology used by many law firms.
Recent high profile cases brought by ACS: Law and Davenport Lyons put judges in no mood to support file-sharing actions. In both cases, judges usually found in favour of the defendants and the law firms ended up facing heavy fines.
"The courts will be protective of individuals. My advice would be tread very carefully," he said.
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