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Government wants more file-sharing powers

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The government has signalled its intention to boost the powers recently put forward in the Digital Britain report to combat illegal file sharing, it has emerged.

In an explanatory statement issued today, the government revealed that it wants to cut off the internet connections of persistent file-sharers and copyright infringers.

The proposal, which is believed to be the direct result of intervention by business secretary Lord Mandelson, will also place preventative measures under the control of ministers rather than Ofcom in order to inject greater urgency into the process.

The approach is in stark contrast to the Digital Britain report, published in June, which indicated that the media regulator should get stronger powers to fight illegal file sharing over the internet, but only as a last resort.

A number of preventative measures, including written warnings, were outlined in the document towards the target of reducing file sharing by 70% over a 12-month period. However, the more stringent penalties - including user bandwidth capping and shaping - would only come into effect as a final resolution.

After receiving a lukewarm response to its proposals, the government now plans to introduce stricter measures to combat the problem. Anyone engaged in illegal file sharing will still receive warning letters, but they will also be threatened with temporary suspension of their internet connections if they continue to exchange copyrighted material.

Another important aspect of this approach will be that the secretary of state rather than Ofcom will retain ultimate power to use the most stringent measures, which will not be dependent on the 70% piracy reduction but rather the minister's individual discretion.

Digital Britain minister Stephen Timms said: "We've been listening carefully to responses to the consultation this far, and it's become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders.

"So we look forward to hearing views on our new ideas, which along with those already received, will help us determine the best way to tackle this complex challenge."

However, the move is likely to be opposed by piracy campaigners due to concerns about its infringement of human rights law. This also follows a recent case in France where proposed legislation to cut the internet connection of file-shares for up to a year was rejected by the country's high court on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

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