the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

19 August 2009

The campaign to stop illegal file-sharing goes to the Labour Party conference next month.

A panel representing both sides of the industry will join Sion Simon, DCMS under-secretary of state for the creative industries, to discuss options for addressing this critical issue. 

Online copyright theft is estimated to be costing the music and film industries billions of pounds a year. BECTU believes that, unchecked, online piracy poses a significant threat to jobs. 

Figures for 2007 reported 98m illegal downloads of films and more than 1bn illegal downloads of music in the UK alone.

The Digital Britain report proposes that internet service providers (ISPs) should send warning notices to those who break the law and that ISPs should collect anonymised data. BECTU, together with fellow unions in the Federation of Entertainment Unions and a number of employers, is calling for a stronger response.

The industry alliance believes that ISPs should be required to play a more active role in limiting copyright theft, by restricting the availability of bandwidth to offending customers if targets for the cutting of illegal downloads are not met.

Piracy is a global issue

As the power of the internet grows, content piracy is an issue of increasing importance to the creative industries globally. Anti-piracy alliances in the US and in Europe are in place but in addition there are influential voices who believe that restrictions on illegal downloading are an infringement of civil liberties.

There are even reports of a difference of opinion in Government, with Peter Mandelson, business secretary, reported yesterday to be at odds on the issue with Tom Watson MP. 

The Labour Party fringe meeting on illegal downloads, open to registered conference delegates and visitors only, takes place on Monday 28 September (start time 19.45, Hilton Metropole Hotel, Brighton, Theatre B, Durham Gallery). Other fringe events at the Labour and Liberal party conferences.

Earlier in September, at the TUC Congress in Blackpool, trade unionists across the whole of industry, will hear about the threat which the current free-for-all presents for content and employment.

BECTU will seek the support of delegates for the following proposition on content piracy:

"Congress notes the growing problem of internet piracy and illegal online file sharing and believes this represents a significant threat to jobs in the creative industries, including the audiovisual, music, and publishing sectors.

Congress recognises:

  • that the creative industries contribute an estimated 8% to UK GDP and provide an estimated 1.8m jobs
  •  that illegal downloading of digital material is widespread and growing, with an estimated 98m of illegal downloads of films and more than 1billion illegal downloads of music in 2007.
  •  that up to 800,000 jobs have been estimated to be at risk in the creative industries, including the jobs of many unionised workers in this area.

Congress believes:

  • that internet service providers (ISPs) should now be required to take stronger action against the illegal distribution of content over their networks.
  • that ISPs should therefore be required to send warning notices to offenders and to take additional graduated technical measures to prevent illegal downloading by individuals who ignore multiple warnings.
  • that, in contrast to Digital Britain's emphasis on legal measures as the first resort (ie rights holders should sue individual offenders), we believe such technical measures should be given priority.

Congress believes this is an issue of preserving workers' jobs and that ISPs should not be allowed to pursue their ruthless commercial interests under the cover of false and misleading justifications based on freedom of information.

Congress therefore calls on the General Council to campaign for Government to take early and effective action to introduce and implement such measures.

'Ambassadors against piracy'

The union is also backing the Industry Trust for IP Awareness in its campaign to recruit 'ambassadors against piracy' to support the distribution of better information in the media, in schools and amongst community groups, about the threat posed by online piracy.

Workers in film who are keen to support this initiative should contact Katy Carter on 020 7079 6206.  The initiative builds on a number of innovative approaches to persuading film and music lovers to value the content they buy. 

Industry alliance against illegal downloads

In June 2009 the industry alliance was launched with the following statement:


•    The scale of the problem of illegal file-sharing is putting at serious risk jobs, investment and the economic output of the creative industries.

•    We welcome the recognition in Digital Britain that Government intervention is required to tackle illegal file-sharing.

•    We believe the Government’s proposals have a good chance of making a difference, subject to a couple of specific concerns: notably that the proposed timetable should be accelerated given the jobs at stake and the need to begin the serious work of changing the attitudes and behaviour of younger internet users who have demonstrated their clear appetite for digital content but many of whom access illegal or unlicensed content rather than the many legal alternatives.

Digital Britain

•    Government recognises the fundamental role that the digital economy will play in nationwide economic growth and UK society more broadly. In that context, it is not acceptable for 50%+ of our digital infrastructure to be dedicated to the distribution of illegal content.

•    Government policy must ensure that the future for broadband in the UK will be the safe and secure delivery of legal content - not the wholesale distribution of illegal content.

•    A lawless free-for-all should not be the model for the transfer of content online in the UK.

•    We welcome Government’s assertion that ISPs can play a major role in working with rights holders to tackle the illegal distribution of content over their networks. ISPs have the ability to bring about large-scale behavioural change amongst consumers who engage in illegal P2P file-sharing.

•    ISPs and their customers face substantial costs related to the development of the next generation broadband network.  Reducing the extraordinary consumption of bandwidth by illegal file-sharing should significantly reduce the unrecovered costs, which are costs that will need to be defrayed either by ISP customers or by public subsidy.  

We make the following specific points:

1.    Notice sending and data collection

We support Government’s requirement that ISPs send warning notices to infringers as a first stage and that they collect anonymised data relating to repeat infringers.

2.    Technical measures

We also support Government’s list of possible technical measures to be implemented at a second ‘phase’ should notice sending alone not prove effective in changing the behaviour of ISPs’ infringing customers.

In the interests of consumer protection, both the implementation of the technical measures and the notice sending regime must be accompanied by a strong and fair appeals process. We believe the Code of Practice that embodies that process should be written now.

3.    Litigation

While we embrace and support the Government’s overall position and approach, we urge the Government to modify its suggestion that rights holders should sue individuals. In order for the threat of this sanction to be credible (and therefore effective) a large number of end users would need to be subject to legal action. This is neither practicable nor proportionate and would create a drain on public resources.

Rights holders seek to work with ISPs and with Government to create a broadband internet ecosystem where norms for behaviour are clearly and repeatedly communicated in ways that are clear and effective and respected by the broad public.  We are prepared in the right circumstances to sue a handful of egregious repeat infringers, but this would be far more effective and acceptable to the public if it came after the implementation of technical measures such as bandwidth capping and/or bandwidth shaping which we believe will be viewed as more proportionate than insisting on courtroom confrontations with large numbers of individuals. If the legislation requires us to sue individuals before the imposition of technical measures, then we believe this should be done in no more than a specified number of cases which Government and rights holders agree in advance and which will be viewed by the public as appropriate.

4. Measurement and activation of triggers

In July 2008, the Government committed to reducing illegal P2P filesharing by 70-80% in 2-3 years (i.e. by July 2011 at the latest).

Research indicates that there are approx 7 million people regularly illegally filesharing on a regular basis in the UK.  The aim is to reduce that figure by 70-80% - i.e. by around 5 million people.

We suggest the following regime:

  •  Now: Accurate measurement of the file-sharing universe
  •  Phase 1: 6 months of large-scale notice sending
  • Measurement of Phase 1:  has there been a 70% reduction?
  • If not – trigger for Phase 2: technical measures to be implemented

Since the 70-80% reduction target is a settled item of Government policy, the reduction measure, (and therefore the trigger point if this measure is not attained), must be a reduction in the overall number of people file-sharing illegally, not a reduction of 70% of those who have received notices, as stated in the BIS consultation. We are happy to work with ISPs and Government and other stakeholders to ensure that an effective system of metrics are put in place to measure (1) the number of illegal file-sharers now and (2) the number of file-sharers 6 months after Phase 1 has started.

We support Ofcom being granted the power (via the Digital Economy Bill but implemented through secondary legislation) to activate the technical measures system if/when the target is not met.

We also support the Government’s recent suggestion that separate back stop powers could lie with the Secretary of State to enable him/her to require the implementation of technical measures if/when the target is not met.

5.    Timing

Widespread wholesale illegal activity is going on right now which means that we urge that the timelines in the regime proposed by Government be shortened.

There are a number of areas where the process could be speeded up:

a.    The work on the Codes of Practice should begin now so that they are ready to be used as soon as the legislation receives Royal Assent.  Either Ofcom or BIS should convene stakeholders and oversee the process (as they did during the MOU negotiations last year). Rights owners stand ready to play our part in those negotiations, in good faith and in a cooperative spirit.

b.    The methodology for measuring Phase 1 (the notice sending stage) needs also to be agreed and put in place now so that it is ready to implement as soon as Phase 1 begins.

c.    Phase 1 should begin as soon as legislation receives Royal Assent.

In conclusion, we welcome and applaud the Government’s recognition of the threat to jobs and the economic health of the UK creative industries posed by illegal file-sharing.  We also welcome and applaud the Government’s commitment expressed in the Digital Britain Report to work to reduce dramatically the extent of illegal file sharing.  We pledge our willingness to work cooperatively to support these efforts.