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consumer group warns of rushed digital rights agency

Consumer Focus (CF), a consumer campaign group, has warned that the government is avoiding a full, open consultation on its proposals for a UK Digital Rights Agency (DRA).

Instead choosing to limit the debate to a rushed, ad hoc discussion, they say.

The DRA is being designed to enforce copyright law on the Internet and crack down on illegal broadband ISP file sharing (P2P). Consumer Focus welcomes the fact that the Government is developing a strategy to take advantage of the digital market, but has serious concerns about the lack of due process being applied.

Ed Mayo, Chief Executive, Consumer Focus, said: "This must be the shortest 'non-consultation' in history. This issue needs debated thoroughly, not decided on the basis of some quick 'conversation' held by men in suits.

The Government has gone down the wrong road with this one. The thinking is fundamentally flawed and would result in thousands of consumers being needlessly criminalised."

Several UK ISPs, including TalkTalk , have also highlighted concerns about the incredibly short consultation period (barely 3 weeks). Consumer Focus also believes that the proposals raise worrying concerns about competition law - given that the Agency could also act as a forum for competitors to agree how digital content is sold and provided.

In related news the BBC News Online site has reported that Internet traffic in Sweden fell by 33% as the country's new anti-piracy law came into effect. Sweden, home of The Pirate Bay site, has one of the fastest broadband networks in Europe and an estimated 8% (Statistics Sweden) of the entire population use P2P.

However Christian Engstrom, vice-chairman of the Swedish Pirate Party, highlighted how such a drop would only be temporary and could ultimately make file sharers more difficult to track as they find new ways to avoid detection (i.e. go underground):

"Today, there is a very drastic reduction in Internet traffic. But experience from other countries suggests that while file-sharing drops on the day a law is passed, it starts climbing again. One of the reasons is that it takes people a few weeks to figure out how to change their security settings so that they can share files anonymously," he added.

Meanwhile Andrew Lloyd Webber, the stage show and reality TV producer, gave a speech at the House of Lords yesterday and warned that the music business would be the first to fall if online piracy could not be stopped:

"I do have serious concerns as to whether the actions proposed to date will achieve the Government's aim of reducing unlawful filesharing by 70-80% over two to three years. Government would appear to be willing the ends but not the means," he said.

To date most of the consumer group and UK ISP responses to proposals for a Digital Rights Agency (DRA) have been largely in opposition. Lord Carter clearly has an uphill struggle, as does the government, with many technical, legal and cost concerns yet to be appeased.

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