January 21, 2010 11:41 pm

Rights holders to fund 75% of web crackdown

Record labels and film studios will have to bear most of the cost of tackling online piracy, the government said on Thursday.

Stephen Timms, Treasury minister, told media executives gathered at the Oxford Media Convention that rights holders should pay 75 per cent of charges arising from the government’s plans to clamp down on internet file-sharing, as they would be the “primary beneficiaries” of the scheme, which ministers estimate will cost £500m over 10 years.

Internet service providers will pay the remaining 25 per cent.

Under the Digital Economy Bill being debated in the House of Lords, broadband subscribers spotted by rights holders swapping songs or films online without the consent of copyright owners will be sent letters by their ISPs. Persistent offenders could face temporary suspension of their internet access.

The music industry had argued for costs to be split evenly between ISPs and rights holders.

The BPI, which represents record labels, said 75 per cent was not a “fair or proportionate allocation” for rights holders.

But Mr Timms urged companies involved in selling content online to “get a move on” with creating legal alternatives to piracy. “Progress has been much too slow,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement will be seen as a further concession by the government to criticism that its policy has been too heavily influenced by rights holders.

Meanwhile, the government is facing a new challenge from the Conservatives over plans in the bill to replace ITV’s regional news programmes with those produced by independent groups.

Jeremy Hunt, shadow culture minister, said the opposition would table an amendment to block the “government policy of using public subsidy to prop up regional news on ITV” by sharing the licence fee, a central part of the Digital Economy Bill.

The plans “would actively prevent the emergence of new, local media models, making broadcasters focus their energies on satisfying politicians, not reaching viewers”, said Mr Hunt.

Companies such as Johnston Press, ITN and Northcliffe Media were last week invited by the government to bid for local news contracts, but Mr Hunt said a Tory government would not proceed with the tender.

“Anyone looking to sign one should understand that we’ll do all we can to legally unpick them if David Cameron [the Tory leader] enters Number 10,” he said.

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