Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Entertainment industry's latest PR push for 3 strikes

The BBC has been giving the entertainment industry's latest PR drive for 3 strikes legislation a lot of free airtime and webspace today.

I would simply refer the honourable ladies and gentlemen to Lilian Edwards who has pointed out in great detail why a 3 strikes approach to tackling copyright infringement on the Net is inappropriate from all kinds of legal perspectives. As Lilian also said at the OII's Musicians, fans and online copyright event at LSE last spring (and as I paraphrased at the time):
"If we withdraw access to the Net from a large number of people in the UK (and 6 million plus are considered to be engaged in copyright infringement via the Net in the UK alone), should such withdrawal be by a closed industry procedure? Practical considerations mean that for the scheme to be workable on the part of the ISPs it would have to be automated and internal to the ISPs. No impartial process or judge would be overseeing it (as is happening in the French case). But we have to realise that ISPs are not Net police but service providers. They are not set up for policing. In court copyright infringement would have to be increased to the standard of a criminal infringement because withdrawal of access to the Internet feels very much like a criminal sanction.

In addition there is a presumption of guilt not innocence. The person linked to the IP address identified as an alleged source of infringement is automatically assumed to be guilty and has the burden of proving their innocence. There are a large number of ways that people might be wrongly accused - there are a lot of reasons why the person linked to the IP address - i.e. the formal ISP subscriber - might not be the infringer. It could be other family members or their friends or others accessing open wireless access points (wifi piggybacking), or trojans enabling remote control of that machine.

There should be an absolute commitment to starting with a presumption of innocence rather than a presumption of guilt by an industry with an economic stake in an outcome whereby someone is held responsible.

Will legal access be available to the accused? Or does someone have to be cut off first? Article 6.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and every substantive international human rights instrument guarantees the right to due process. Is access to the Net itself a basic human right? Article 36 of the ECHR would suggest so or at least it is very close. The French scheme is better than an unmediated scheme since it allows for the access to an independent tribunal with the oversight of a judge.

Even if we could overcome these problems, there is a serious legal question about whether a 3 strikes law is a proportionate response to the specific problem. According to the recent Promusicae case in the European Court of Justice the rights of the music labels to protect their copyrights must be balanced with the basic human rights of users of the Net. Having access to the Net is now a basic part of nearly everyone's life in the developed world and it relates to basic rights to
  • free expression
  • freedom of association
  • education
  • and employment
and the ECHR and every other serious international charter of rights says that if a law is not proportionate it is not legal. As Lilian said in the immediate aftermath of the Promusicae decision:
"the Court finally held that, turning to fundamental rights in the EC Charter, if the fundamental rights to property, and to privacy (which appear therein, as well as in the ECHR) appear to come into conflict when EC Directived are implemented in national laws , well, then , IP does not take precedence over privacy (or vice versa): instead, national courts must "make sure that they do not rely on an interpretation of [national laws] which which would be in conflict with these rights." (para 68) Put it plainly: IP rights do not trump DP rights, says the ECJ.

In other words also - my interpretation purely, now - although the ECJ have not said that laws requiring automatic disclosure of personal data to rights holders to protect IP rights would be illegal under the PECD, a serious warning has been issued to national legislatures not to be pushed into passing such laws, without considering first if rights of protection of personal data are being taken properly into account."
In other words, even with the legitimate aim of defending or protecting copyrights, the ECJ clearly instructed member state governments that they are not to endanger human rights or proportionality. Lilian actually thinks that this part of the decision was a clear dicta from the court aimed directly at the kind of 3 strikes notice and disconnect schemes the French have implemented and others are considering."

No comments: