Britain moves to curb filesharing

Britain's government is looking to temporarily cut off internet access for people who download music and films illegally.

Britain's government is looking to temporarily cut off internet access for people who download music and films illegally.

Treasury Minister Stephen Timms on Tuesday announced a plan that would require internet service provides to block access to certain filesharing sites, throttle internet connections and suspend users' accounts if they were found to be repeatedly downloading copyrighted material.

The move would allow for "swifter and more flexible measures" in combating piracy, Timms said.

The plan would also take the responsibility for curbing illegal downloading away from Ofcom, the U.K.'s telecommunications regulator, and give it directly to government ministers in order to speed up the process.

The move was cheered by copyright holders, but Britain's Open Rights Group, an organization that aims to protect internet users, said such a plan would "restrict people's fundamental right to freedom of expression."

The plan also came as a surprise to many industry observers, given that the decision to cut off peer-to-peer filesharers was ruled out by the government's own Digital Britain report in June as going too far.

That report originally proposed that people downloading music and video illegally would first receive letters warning them that they could be prosecuted for their actions. If that failed to cut piracy down by at least 70 per cent, internet providers would then have to introduce technical measures, such as slowing down the connections of persistent filesharers.

"The previous proposals, whilst robust, would take an unacceptable amount of time to complete in a situation that calls for urgent action," according to a draft of the government's new plan.

The British media have already begun speculating that the government's change of direction might be the result of a recent meeting between Lord Peter Mandelson, the first secretary of state, and Hollywood mogul David Geffen. Both men are stringent opponents of online piracy and met at a private dinner earlier this month.