UK consumers back file-sharing clampdown

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The increasingly hard line being taken on illegal file-sharing is having an effect, with a new poll showing public support is growing the UK for internet providers' efforts to curb digital piracy.

US government officials this week shut down nine websites offering illegal film and TV downloads as part of Operation in Our Sites a major push to crack down on digital piracy.

Between them the targeted sites attracted an estimated 6.7 million visitors each month, with officials calling the initiative the "largest takedown of illegal movie and TV websites in a single action" ever.

Such heavy handed tactics have yet to be employed in the UK, but it seems public opinion on the matter is softening.

A new Ipsos Mori poll has revealed that most UK consumers now feel it is acceptable for internet service providers (ISPs) to slow down or suspend the internet connections of copyright infringers.

Despite ongoing questions over the accuracy of measures being used to identify alleged offenders, 53 per cent of those questioned said it was acceptable for ISPs to slow down their internet connections, and 52 per cent agreed that persistent offenders should have their account suspended.

Under the Digital Economy Act (DEA), set to come into force next year, ISPs will be able to do just that, and cut offenders who have ignored three earlier warnings delivered by letter.

While the DEA will place the burden of responsibility on the owner of the internet connection to make sure it isn't being used for illegal purposes, in the US authorities are striking out against the sources of pirated content.

This week's crackdown comes after months of evidence-gathering and preparation, with search warrants issued in four states in an investigation spanning 11 US states and the Netherlands, involving some 100 agents. Officials say the sites' operators could now face prison terms.

Only the domain names of the sites in question have been seized with the sites now displaying a warning to that effect on their home pages which means the services could easily reappear simply by using a different URL.

However, John Morton, assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which spearheaded the operation, said authorities would continue to track sites offering digital content illegally, regardless of where they moved.

"If a site reappears, so will we," Morton told reporters. "If the criminals move overseas, we will follow. Take it from me, I don't think that we've stopped Internet piracy in a day. This is going to be a sustained effort."