It was today announced that the massive waste of space known to many as Ofcom would be getting some new powers with which to annoy the British public. The government's Digital Britain report included anti-piracy measures (PDF link) meaning that people sharing files via P2P networks would find themselves warned first, but then have their details passed to rights-holders if they didn't cease trading files.
It appears that the technologically ignorant and ill-informed people who are in charge of running this country into the ground have failed to grasp the reality of the situation once again. They have heard the buzzwords around downloading (read: been berated by handsomely paid film-industry lobbyists) and assume that by hitting P2P file sharers they will bring a halt to what they call piracy. Indeed, they are so confident that they believe they can reduce illegal downloading by 70 per cent in the next two years.
As you'd expect, this was all stick and no carrot. There was no mention in the speech of asking movie studios to abandon DRM on their products. Such a move would stimulate the 'digital economy' by reducing the pain of dealing with rights management and achieve what the music industry has, by making it easier and cheaper to buy its products. Instead, it's all threats and the promise of prosecution if you don't play by the rules of an arcane industry that can't move with the times.
It's also not really clear how ISPs will monitor copyright infringement. We're going to assume it will be triggered by a complaint by the rights holder. What that will mean is that the likes of private sites and news servers will be very hard to target. That will leave the usual suspects targeted, namely the ones that offer no privacy to users.
The entertainment industry and its friends in governement are fixated on sites such as The Pirate Bay and other high-profile torrent sites. But as yet, they've said nothing that implies they're even aware there are other ways to obtain copyrighted material. For example, we didn't notice a proposal to stop people coming into pubs to flog dodgy DVDs. Are they going to put an end to sharing on newsgroups and IRC? No, we didn't think so, because we don't think Lord Carter would know what an IRC channel was if one came and bit him in the satchel.
So we suspect that this will very much be the same fiasco we've seen in the past, where people make small mistakes about downloading music and end up facing a huge fine or other legal action, while the people in charge of pirating material are largely left to their own devices. Those at the top of the chain value their privacy a great deal, and take incredible care to protect their identities. You certainly wouldn't catch any of them dead on a public BitTorrent site.