In a letter leaked to the Times, UK Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw indicated the government has reduced its goal for a 70% reduction in digital piracy in two to three years. That two- to three-year span, according to Bradshaw, started with the tepid anti-piracy measures adopted in July 2008 and not more concrete measures that may be passed next year. The letter reflects how difficult it will be for victory against file sharing to be defined and declared.
From the Times Online:
A promise had been made in July last year to reduce "file sharing by 70 per cent in two to three years" as part of a three-way agreement between the Government, internet service providers and media companies. ...
That target has been quietly set back, with Mr Bradshaw writing that the two- to three-year timescale was "based on the premise" that measures to combat piracy would be "taken from July 2008 onwards". Those adopted to date have been modest. ...
Mr Bradshaw, writing to Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, in a letter dated June 22, said that "a more constructive approach" would be "to take as our starting point the time at which obligations on internet service providers take effect" - effectively setting the target back by at least 18 months.
A goal of 70% reduction in piracy was in the Digital Britain report issued last month. The report referred to surveys that indicate notifications are sufficient to "stop or significantly reduce" a user's file-sharing activity. But the report left open the possibility of harsher anti-piracy measures if softer measures did not produce the desired results. The current letter-writing campaign warns suspected infringers and is rather tame compared to the report's suggestion that ISPs may eventually be required to make available to courts data on repeat infringers.
A bill based on suggestions in the Digital Britain report would not become law until 2010, estimated the Times. Such a date would be two years after the initial pledge.
Not only is the start time of the goal flexible, but the yardstick used to gauge anti-piracy measures' effectiveness is as well. As seen in the bottom excerpt, a 70% reduction in piracy could be achieved by an actual 35% reduction in piracy. In the example contained in the Digital Britain report, warning letters are sent to half of all ISP subscribers. If those letters resulted in a 70% reduction letter recipients' piracy, the 70% benchmark would have been achieved even though there would have been only a 35% decrease in piracy.
Here are some passages from the Digital Britain report that refer to anti-piracy goals.
The Government considers online piracy to be a serious offence. Unlawful downloading or uploading, whether via peer-to-peer sites or other means, is effectively a civil form of theft. This is not something that we can condone, or to which we can fail to respond. We are therefore setting out in this report a clear path to addressing this problem which we believe needs to result in a reduction of the order of 70-80% in the incidence of unlawful filesharing.
The Government intends to provide initially for Ofcom to have a duty to secure a significant reduction in unlawful file sharing by imposing two specific obligations: notification of unlawful activity and, for repeat-infringers, a court-based process of identity release and civil action. The Government is also providing for intermediate technical measures by ISPs, such as bandwidth reduction or protocol blocking, if the two main obligations have been reasonably tried but, against expectations, shown not to have worked within a reasonable but also reasonably brisk period.
We are consulting on the trigger mechanism, which we believe needs to give both rights-holders and ISPs strong incentives to make the notification system work. The Proportionate Notification Response trigger that we propose, should be focused on measuring the efficacy of the scheme involving a notification procedure, legal action and other measures as set out above in relation to achieving the 70% target for reduction in unlawful sharing. We therefore believe that the trigger should be calculated by (a) taking the number of unique individuals notified and (b) assessing what percentage of those notified have stopped unlawful file sharing, either voluntarily or due to prosecution. If that percentage does not exceed or is not significantly close to 70% the mechanism will be triggered (As an illustration: if the baseline unlawful peer to peer universe identified by Ofcom was 100, and notifications were sent to 50% of that universe with prosecutions against serial repeat offenders, the benchmark would be met if there was a 35% reduction in unlawful file-sharing i.e. 70% of 50%).