The UK Government has said it will move to begin prosecuting ISPs if they do not come up with a solution to curb illegal downloading over their networks before April 2009.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has told the Financial Times that the deadline was a “clear signal” of the Government’s determination to tackle the problem. “Let me make it absolutely clear: this is a change of tone from the Government,” he said.

However, Mr Burnham dismissed reports last week that suggested the Government was considering a ‘three strikes’ approach to dealing with offenders, claiming that any such proposal had “never been in the paper”.

Voluntary self-regulation

The ISPA is currently engaged in discussions with the entertainment industry over the introduction of a voluntary code of self-regulation. The Culture Secretary’s outburst to the FT would appear to be designed to speed up those negotiations.

That’s all very well, but as an ISPA spokesperson confirmed to TechRadar, the six-month-old discussions need to secure agreement on all sides of the table, before anything can be implemented. “It’s not just down to the ISPs to agree with each other. The rights holders also need to be on board,” a spokesperson said.

Technical, financial and legal barriers

In addition, according to our source at the ISPA, any proposals to monitor customers’ traffic would be very difficult to establish, not only from a technical standpoint, but also from a financial and legal perspective.

“ISPs are not law enforcement agencies, and any solution has to take that into account while remaining legal, workable and cost-effective,” ISPA’s spokesman told us. “It’s only right that ISPs should also have recourse to some form of cost-recovery for the implementation of any agreed scheme,” he added.

Although the ISPA spokesperson stopped short of saying this money should come directly from the Government and entertainment industry, he did say that if ISPs were going to be forced to look after the interests of rights holders then any additional cost for doing so needed to come “from the right places”.