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Government responds to BitTorrent petition

A petition against measures proposed as part of the Digital Economy Bill, which closed back in June, has finally received a response from the government explaining the need protect the UK's creative economy from peer-to-peer file sharing.

The petition, which was launched earlier this year by TalkTalk's Andrew Heaney in response to the Government’s proposal to cut off Internet access to those who are caught illegally downloading copyrighted files as part of the Digital Economy Bill, stopped accepting signatories back in June - by which point it had gathered 35,369 supporters.

In the petition, Heaney explains that moves to disconnect unrepentant file sharers who use peer-to-peer systems like BitTorrent to download and upload copyright material has "one fundamental flaw: illegal filesharers will simply hack into other peoples' Wi-Fi networks to do their dirty work. This will result in innocent people being disconnected from the Internet," the lawmakers were alerted.

Worse, Heaney warned that "this guilty until proven innocent approach violates basic human rights," and should be tried in a court rather than left to copyright owners and ISPs to police.

It's taken a while - during which time the Digital Economy Bill has become the Digital Economy Act - but the government has finally responded to the concerns of over 35,000 citizens. In its official response, the government explains: "It is clear that online copyright infringement inflicts considerable damage on the UK’s creative economy including music, TV and film, games, sports and software," claiming that the losses suffered by the industry as a result of file sharing can be valued at around £400 million every year.

"The Digital Economy Act," the response goes on to explain, "includes a number of measures to tackle the problem and we expect these to be successful in significantly reducing online copyright infringement.

"However this is an area of rapid technological change and developing consumer behaviour," the un-signed response continues. "The Act therefore includes a reserve power to introduce further 'technical' measures if the initial measures do not succeed."

However, the response denies that outright disconnection from the Internet is on the cards for those accused of sharing content without the permission of copyright owners: "These technical measures would limit or restrict an infringer's access to the Internet," the response explains, but it goes on to state that "they do not include disconnection."

The news is good for those who were concerned that the Digital Economy Act would herald in a three-strikes policy, as adopted by the French government, where those accused of file sharing can be disconnected from an ISP without trial. However, the mention of measures to "restrict or limit an [alleged] infringer's access to the Internet" means that Heaney's concerns, and those of the petition's signatories, are clearly not without merit.

The full text of the petition, plus the government's response to its concerns, can be found over on the HMG website.