UN report says three-strikes breaches human rights

By | Published on Monday 6 June 2011

Warning Letter

A report presented to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on Friday says that any anti-piracy laws that could result in people losing their internet connections are “disproportionate” and breach human rights. The report, written by Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue, goes on to urge those countries which have already adopted such a system, including the UK, to repeal any three-strike laws.

In the UK that would mean the already controversial copyright section of the Digital Economy Act, which paves the way for ‘technical measures’ to be used against those net-users who continue to infringe copyright online after receiving two written warnings. The DEA is a bit vague on how those technical measures will work – it seems likely additional parliamentary consideration would be required before any net suspensions could begin – but La Rue thinks they go too far.

In France, of course, the similar Hadopi system already includes a much more explicit net disconnection clause for persistent infringers, although French anti-piracy efforts are yet to get to the point where disconnections are actually on the agenda.

La Rue writes: “The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from internet access, regardless of
the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights. This also includes legislation based on the concept of ‘graduated response’, which imposes a series of penalties on copyright infringers that could lead to suspension of internet service, such as the so-called “three-strikes-law” in France and the Digital Economy Act 2010 of the United Kingdom”.

Similar concerns over human rights have previously been raised at a European level, although of late the European Commission seems to be more overtly supporting those EU countries who are introducing some sort of three-strikes process for combating online piracy.

TalkTalk and BT’s efforts to have the copyright section of the DEA sent back to parliament via judicial review also originally referenced human rights, although their more recent application to the Court Of Appeal (them having lost the original judicial review) has dropped that justification for why three-strikes should never have become law.

Responding to the UN report, a spokesman for the government’s Department Of Culture, Media & Sport stressed that any suspensions of internet access under the DEA would be temporary, and also that that element of the UK’s graduated response system was someway off. But, the spokesman said, while the right of the individual to access the internet is important, “there are counter-balancing rights, including to intellectual property, and government must set the balance in a fair and proportionate way”.