Last week, plans were announced
for several new laws in Britain concerning file sharing and piracy on the internet. The details (or rather, the scary lack
of details) have been picked apart this week and the potential reality of the proposed bill is very scary. Jim Sterling's-worst-nightmares-come-true kind of stuff. I want to rant about these for a bit, but I suppose I better get the game-related part done first.
Within the next two years, the British government is going to introduce a new video game age rating system for all games rated 12 and over. They've yet to say much about it and it probably won't have much impact, other than finally making it actually illegal
to sell these games to people under the age specified by the rating on the box. Interestingly, the few bits of information we have on this so far specify "boxed
video games." What is to happen to downloaded games?
Well, many households in the UK may soon not be able to download any games anyway. As BoingBoing.net broke shortly after
, the new laws (proposed to be put into place by the middle of 2011) will give the government the power to create legislation against internet piracy virtually at whim. Peter Mandelson (and/or his successor) would be able to make up punishments - including limitless fines and jail time - for the mere accusation of a crime; you could be behind bars before they've even tried to actually prove you've done anything. They won't even have to try
to get it passed either; once the core legislation is in place, they will be able to amend it further without the chance of opposition. Mandelson could write in, unchallenged, "anyone who vists the website destructoid.com could potentially be a file sharer and thus has to give me £20 every Tuesday". And you'd just have to hand him £20 every Tuesday.
The government will
also have the power to bring the banhammer down on anyone it believes to be a repeat offender; your entire household could be subject to restricted internet access, or have internet acces removed entirely - permanently. Think about that: because Little Timmy downloaded the theme tune to his favourite TV show without paying for it, Daddy Timmy could become unable to use the internet.
Bear in mind, Mandelson was not elected into this position. He's not there because the British public support or trust him. The proposed laws will give this unelected, effectively random person the power to imprison people merely on the suggestion that they may have been illegally downloading music or films. Because of what this one (again I must stress, completely unelected
) man decides, you could be fined, have your internet access restricted or entirely stopped, face jail time or any other punishment he cares to dream up, all for the mere accusation
that you may have downloaded something illegally.
Another even scarier aspect of the situation is how
they will monitor people and enforce these laws. ISPs could be forced to monitor how every single person in the country uses the internet, right down to the details of every file they search for, view or download. It's not just ISPs either - Mandelson's own plans detail using "militia", financed by rightsholder groups (e.g. record labels), who will be given the tools and legal access to also monitor your online activity. These groups will (if Mandelson has his way) have all (or certainly most) of the power he has - to demand ISPs block you form viewing specific websites, to force you to remove files from your computers, disconnect you entirely, etc. So not only is this unelected official hoping to have laws implemented that will give him virtually limitless power over internet use in the UK, but he wishes to then confer those powers (which he would be able to do - anything he wants would get passed automatically) to as many of these third party, private "militia groups" as he wants.
Nothing will be exempt from this. Popular file hosting sites like Megaupload and Rapidshare would be forced to remove the ability for users to make files private. User-generated content (including that in video games or even extending to the files people create for such websites as deviantArt) could be monitored and reviewed by lawyers before being available online. We're talking full internet policing here. Nothing private, everything controlled by people we don't know.
Oh yeah, and in 2010 they're going to start taxing every household that has a broadband internet connection 50p a month, with the goal to use this money to go towards providing better connections to the more remote areas of the country, with the hope being that 90% of the UK will have broadband connections (at a minimum speed of 2mb) by the end of 2017. I hardly see the point, by the time those families get their connections in 2017, our internet won't even be able to access the government's websites in case we pirate their .GIF banner.
There is currently an online petition running at number10.gov.uk - the official website of the Prime Minister's office - against the proposed laws having the ability to terminate a person's internet access. While the petition sadly does
not include all of the potential legislation, it is at least fighting for peoples' right to have a fully working internet connection, at least until actually
proven guilty in court. People living in the UK can sign the petition HERE