Industry reaction to the UK government’s decision to tackle piracy resulting from peer to peer file sharing with legislation has been mainly positive although tempered with caution.

The legislation would mean that where rights holders request it, internet service providers (ISPs) should notify alleged copyright infringers that they are breaking the law.

Lavinia Carey of the British Video Association welcomed the proposals, explaining ‘It is not clear to end users what is and isn’t illegal. It’s hard to navigate your way around. It’s a definite step in the right direction. The Government has left the door open for continued discussions. We look forward to working with BARE and the Government.’

The legislation would also require ISPs to collect information on the unlawful web activities of serious repeat offenders if rights holders ask them to do so; rights holders will then be able to access that information with a court order.

The move potentially enables rights holders to take legal action against those illegally downloading files.

Carey highlighted that rights holders at least see this as a positive step.

‘I think everybody has welcomed it from the point of view of rights’ owners. I think the Government felt it had to do it because it could see a mutually agreeable solution. Everyone bar some ISPs feel networks need to offer a safe area to do business.’

The introduction of legislation is a harder line than the government had said it hoped to take only last year. The report, which sets out the Government’s proposals - Digital Britain - is an interim report with the final report expected by the summer.

Eddy Leviten of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) was positive but cautious in his assessment of the proposals so far.

‘We broadly welcome the report’s proposals in relation to ISPs and the protection of intellectual property for audio visual industry for the UK but this is only part of the process. There is still another consultation process to come. We wait to see what final conclusions will be reached later in the year,’ Leviton said.

However Pete Buckingham, head of exhibition and distribution at the UK Film Council feels there is still room for some clarification. ‘We need a lot more detail on the anti-piracy stuff, the funding and the logic behind it and the implications for consumers and the industry.’ Buckingham said.

The debate on protecting rights to online copy is not limited to the UK but the UK government’s proposals would appear to be in line with EU and international level thinking on the issue.

At EU level, online copyright protection has been labeled by European Commissioner Viviane Reding as a ‘cornerstone’ of her digital policies.

The largest piece of related legislation that Commissioner Reding has overseen is the so called Telecoms Package introduced in November 2007.

It brings EU legislation on telecoms in line with the digital era and to provide enough flexibility to cope with the impact of fast changing developments in technology.

That package is currently being debated across Member States and is expected to become law by 2010.

However some areas have given rise to debate, particularly with regards to copyright protection and the role of ISPs in monitoring and being accountable for illegal online activity by users.

The different interpretations by national courts of the rules in this area have thrown up the need for greater clarity and consistency.

Consequently, the Commission has announced a consultation to identify and address those areas

It is widely thought that any new legislation resulting from that debate could well see the EU impose obligations on ISPs with regard to the monitoring or releasing information on unlawful web activities to rights holders that do not appear in the current package.

Indeed, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement currently being negotiated with the EU, Japan, and the US among others, is speculated to be taking a similar tack.

The European Commission consultation will be launched on February 26.