South Africa May Follow UK Bill on Downloads


South Africa may follow the UK government's intention to pass a law curbing illegal content downloads by requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to crack down on users' illegal activities, local industry leaders say.

The UK hopes to deter users from downloading copyright content illegally, saving related businesses an estimated £1bn annual loss to illegal file-sharing and related practices.

If the law is passed it would require British ISP s to boot off their networks those who do not comply with international copyright laws. They would be required to track their users' activities and suspend their contracts after three warnings.

UK newspaper the Guardian reported last week that major UK ISP s had agreed to assist the government if it was required, and France may be looking at a similar initiative, according to a BBC news interview.

The BBC reported that at certain times 95% of online traffic was taken up by users illegally sharing files. Nathier Kasu, head of products at MWEB, SA's largest ISP, said the law was a bit like "asking Toyota not to manufacture a car that could be hijacked", but that if it was passed in the UK, it could well be passed in SA .

"Laws like that in the UK will probably become a reality here too. At some point we will have to become aligned with international laws. But (SA ) is still very much in the developing-world infrastructure phase, compared to the UK, which is more developed (in terms of its telecoms industry)."

Kasu said that while ISP s played a role in educating their users against illegal file-sharing and downloads, there could be other tricky issues to deal with, such as privacy. "Illegal downloading is the bane of anyone trying to make a living through the sale of copyright content and ISP s are responsible for educating users about this. But I think there is an element to the UK law that would be an invasion of privacy."

MWEB Home GM Natalie Thayer said MWEB believed in the privacy of its 350,000 subscribers and regarded this as a priority. "MWEB has in the past and will continue to work within the framework of government's regulation on information. If the government follows the example of the UK, we would suggest a consultative approach with us and other ISP s," Thayer said.

Kasu said the government could already give ISP s the necessary permission to monitor certain users "on behalf of the government" if they were suspected of terrorism activities.

However, there were complications in the local environment. He said in SA the broadband infrastructure was managed by Telkom through its South African Internet Exchange System (SAIX).

"As ISP s we have the permission to buy and repackage access to SAIX on behalf of our users, but we do not have direct access and would not be able to monitor users without Telkom's help."

Business Day