Get the facts
Is this a law?
No. At present (Tuesday 29th December) the bill as at its second reading in the House of Lords. This is the first opportunity there has been for the Lords to debate the bill. If it is successful in the Lords, it will pass to the House of Commons before being made law; if it manages to pass the House of Lords, as seems likely, then it is unlikely to be rejected by the Commons unless there is significant public opposition to the bill.
What does the bill say?
The bill is divided into nine parts. Of these, the first three are the most directly relevant to the internet, and it is the second that is particularly worrying – this is the section that deals with online copyright infringement.
This section states that if it is suspected that you, or anyone else using your internet connection, has downloaded or made available copyrighted material, the copyright owner can require your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to contact you and report back to the rightsowner.
It also empowers the Secretary of State to force ISPs to limit – either by slowing down a user’s connection or restricting what they can access – or completely disconnect a user’s internet access. This would be done without any formal hearing and without the assent of any judge or court – in the words of the bill it could be done based on “any [...] consideration”. (Section 124H)
What would happen if you were accused?
- The rightsholder – for example a record company – determines that the user is infringing. The bill does not set out how this is to be done; the company is in effect free to determine guilt any way they see fit. As has been shown by the cases that have gone to court, this determination is often made on the back of weak or non-existant evidence.
- The rightsholder sends a letter to your ISP
- Your ISP sends you a warning letter. This will contain information of the time of the “infringement” and the IP address of the computer that “committed” it. It will also contain information on securing your network.
- If the rights holder judges that infringement has continued after a period of time (not defined in the bill) they may require your ISP to throttle your connection, prevent you from accessing certain resources, or disconnect you completely.
- If you believe this was done in error, you can appeal. This appeal would not go to a court, but to a First-Tier tribunal. This would be your first chance to deny the accusations, and could come after the punitive measures had been taken.