Business News Digital Labels & Publishers Legal

Swiss government report critical of other countries’ anti-file-sharing moves

By | Published on Monday 5 December 2011


As different governments around the world consider how to help copyright owners protect their rights online, the Swiss government has thrown a novel approach into the pot for consideration – let’s do nothing. Or at least that’s what a government report published last week proposed.

As previously reported, legislators in various countries are considering, or have recently considered, ways to help rights holders combat online piracy. The content industries have become increasingly vocal about the need for new anti-piracy laws in recent years, insisting that existing options don’t work.

The main two existing options being suing individual file-sharers, or suing the makers of software or websites that assist others in infringement. The former would involve suing millions of people which is impractical, and suing just a few hundred or few thousand has never acted as a deterrent, even in those countries where the courts have always ruled against the file-sharers. The latter is costly and time-consuming, and even though the rights owners usually win in court, even if that court win results in a file-sharing service going offline, there are always competitors ready to take over.

There are two main alternative measures proposed by the content industries, both requiring the help of internet service providers, who will generally only assist if forced to by law. The first is good old three-strikes, or graduated response, where file-sharers are sent warning letters telling them to stop accessing unlicensed music, with the threat of some sort of reduction of their net service if they do not comply. The second is high-speed web blocking, providing content owners with a quick and easy way to secure an injunction that orders ISPs to block access to copyright infringing websites.

As much previously reported, in the UK the Digital Economy Act set in place the framework for both these options, though prioritised three-strikes over web-block injunctions, so much so the latter would require additional legislation to be put into action. Though ironically, while media regulator OfCom is still agonising about how exactly graduated response should work, web-blocking has been achieved through the back door, under the precedent set in the Newzbin case, argued under existing copyright law.

Whether it be the DEA in the UK, Hadopi in France, The Sinde Act in Spain, the Skynet Law in New Zealand or the increasingly contentious SOPA in the US, efforts to introduce new anti-piracy rules are always met with fierce opposition, outside the legislative hall if not inside. Opponents argue neither three-strikes nor web blocks will work (more net-savvy file-sharers can hide their online activity and circumvent blocks), and that they breach the freedom of speech and privacy rights of web users. Some also throw in the old “file-sharing is free marketing for content owners” argument for good measure.

In most Western countries, even those where the courts have previously proven pretty unhelpful in the fight against file-sharing, generally the content industries’ arguments have won the day. But not, seemingly, in Switzerland. According to a Torrentfreak translation, a government report recently published there remarked: “Every time a new media technology has been made available, it has always been ‘abused’. This is the price we pay for progress. Winners will be those who are able to use the new technology to their advantages and losers those who missed this development and continue to follow old business models”.

The report says that although about a third of Swiss citizens over fifteen years old now routinely download music, movies or games over the net, there is no evidence that this activity affects the overall sum of money these people spend on entertainment, suggesting the entertainment industry is earning as much money as before, even if the cash is entering the industry via different routes. The report also cites Dutch research which recounts the old “file-sharing music fans spend more on live” argument.

Having questioned the need for new anti-piracy rules, the report then questions the two methods considered in most other countries for combating file-sharing. On three-strikes, the report looks to France whose government, it says, has spent twelve million euros on its Hadopi graduated response system, which is far too big an investment given the returns, the Swiss argue. They also question whether any system that can ultimately deprive individuals of access to the internet complies with United Nation’s human rights rules.

On web blocks, they point out that more technically competent file-sharers can get around them, while also citing free speech concerns.

As we say, none of these arguments against new anti-piracy laws are new, but it is interesting to see them set out so undisputed in an official government report. Of course government reports don’t always stand – the UK government’s Digital Britain report recommended not proceeding with three-strikes in the short term, yet graduated response was included in the subsequent Digital Economy Act. However, while a number of countries push through new laws to help content owners combat file-sharing, it’s worth noting that’s not a universal development worldwide.