Telecom giants fail to overturn internet piracy crackdown

INTERNET users who illegally download files will face tougher regulations after a legal challenge to the proposed measures was overturned in the Court of Appeal.

Telecoms firms BT and TalkTalk yesterday lost their Court of Appeal challenge against UK government moves to tackle copyright infringement online.

The companies asked three appeal judges in London to overturn a High Court ruling backing controversial measures intended to curb illegal internet file-sharing.

The creative industries estimate the practice is costing them about £400 million a year, especially with regard to films, music and books.

But the new regulations would mean that internet service providers (ISPs) would have to send letters to people who fall foul of the law – and potentially cut off their service.

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BT and TalkTalk, which are two of the UK’s largest ISPs, claim that the proposed measures are incompatible with European Union law.

Their lawyers also argued at an appeal court hearing in January that the measures would result in an invasion of privacy and run up disproportionate costs for ISPs and consumers.

Yesterday, Lady Justice Arden, sitting with Lord Justice Richards and Lord Justice Patten, disagreed and dismissed their appeal.

High Court judge Mr Justice Kenneth Parker had already rejected the challenge in April last year.

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The appeal judges ruled that he had reached the correct decision, that his ruling was “soundly based” and there was no need to refer the case to the European Court of Justice for a final decision.

The High Court judge had declared the proposals under the Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA) to be a proportionate parliamentary response to the serious economic problem of peer-to-peer file-sharing, and said the likely costs were justified.

He upheld submissions made by lawyers for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that there were sufficient safeguards to protect the rights of consumers and ISPs.

Organisations in the creative industry, who say the practice of file-sharing is costing millions, welcomed the decision.

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John McVay, chief executive of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television, said: “We always believed that the judicial review was misconceived.

“Rather than needlessly spending more time and money on further legal challenges, BT and TalkTalk now need to focus on working with [copyright] rights holders and the government in implementing the Digital Economy Act with immediate effect.”

Actors’ union Equity also called on BT and TalkTalk to “stop fighting and start obeying the law”.

General secretary Christine Payne added: “Once again the court is on the side of the almost two million workers in the creative industries whose livelihoods are put at risk because creative content is stolen on a daily basis.”

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A spokesman for BT said the company accepted the decision.

“We have been seeking clarification from the courts that the DEA is consistent with European law, and legally robust in the UK, so that everyone can be confident in how it is implemented,” he said.

“Now that the court has made its decision, we will look at the judgment carefully to understand its implications and consider our next steps.”

A TalkTalk spokesman added: “We encourage all of our customers to use the internet responsibly and to obey the law.”