Thursday, October 29, 2009

TalkTalk vs Mandy??

Two days ago Pangloss, commenting on Mandelson's newly elaborated plans to introduce a UK "3 Strikes", added;
Interesting thought from Twitter: "if my business was cut off for allegedly downloading illegally I'd be looking for someone to sue". Will any legislation have an immunity in it for ISPs a la the US DMCA? If not, start lobbying NOW, ISPs.."

This thought (which turns out to have originated from the helpful @futureidentity, aka Robin Wliton) seems to have occurred fairly swiftly to others too... According to the Grauniad, today:

TalkTalk, the second largest internet service provider in the UK, has threatened to launch legal action if business secretary Peter Mandelson follows through with his plan to cut off persistent illegal filesharers' internet connections.

Carphone Warehouse-owned TalkTalk, which has more than 4 million ISP customers and owns the Tiscali and AOL brands, claimed the government's plan was based on filesharers being "guilty until proven innocent" and constituted an infringement of human rights.

"The approach is based on the principle of 'guilty until proven innocent' and substitutes proper judicial process for a kangaroo court," said Andrew Heaney, the executive director of strategy and regulation at TalkTalk. "We know this approach will lead to wrongful accusations."

While the liberal blogosphere has on the whole greeted this news with unrestrained enthusiasm (Twitter is full of it), Pangloss is a litle sceptical as to whether it is any more than self-seeking good-PR sabre-rattling.

Firstly, what exactly is TalkTalk's title to sue here? Surely not anything mentioned in the interview above. The breach of human rights, if any, will surely be of the subscribers, not the ISP. Any wrongful accusations without due process will similarly be directed at users, not the conduit.

TalkTalk's (or any other ISP's) real worries seem obvious :

(a) the threat of being sued by aggrieved users for everything from breach of confidence, to acessory to false accusation, to co-publisher of a libel, as well as of course for breach of the actual contract for Internet services; and

(b) the costs of being involved in Mandy's Great Scheme, both in terms of actual money and loss of customer goodwill. The Guardian also usefully reports today that according to BT and Carphone Warehouse (ie TalkTalk) , Mandy's scheme might costs £420m pa, to be shared evenly between rightsholders and ISPs (and, incidentally, to solve an estimated loss to the music industry of half that - c £200m pa.)

These figures make it clear the latter is the real issue, not human rights, nor liability to customers. In fact, most ISPs will have extensive exclusion from liability clauses in their subscriber contracts already - although these may well be subject to challenge under the Unfair Terms Regulations and /or UCTA and thus unenforceable.

So what would be the ISP's actual grounds for an action? No one has a right in this country simply to dispute a statute because they don't like it. Victims of a human rights violation - an unlawful act under s 7 of the HRA 98 - may indeed question the validity of a statute in any domestic proceedings, though under HRA 98, no UK court has the right to strike down legislation, merely to make a declaration of incompatibility, leaving it to the governement then to sort out what the hell to do.

Is TalkTalk itself a victim of any ECHR or HRA human rights violation? I don't see how. (Indeed it was once controversial if a juristic person could suffer a human rights violation - though this now seems to be accepted in some cases.) What they might argue is the rather muzzy domestic law tort that the government has interfered with their business contracts. This would be controversial (doesn't a government have the right to do exactly that? case law mainly concerns dirty practice by commercial competitors) and would attract considerably less public sympathy of course.

Another more plausible line of attack would be that any legislation was in breach of EC law forbidding ISPs from being required to generally monitor the public under art 15 of the E-Commerce Directive - although this has not stopped the French passing HADOPI - twice :-)

Pangloss is glad to see ISPs like TalkTalk, whom she has always regarded as being stuck between a rock and a hard place in this matter, coming out firmly against Mandelson's proposals and even gladder to see them endorse her own arguments that 3 strikes is likely to be in breach of ECHR guarantees of due process and privacy. But frankly - sue Mandelson? Oh come on, as someone else might say...

1 comment:

Joseph said...

Nice post.