After years of lobbying and pressuring by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the major British ISP’s (BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media) have agreed to send out ‘educational’ letters to customers suspected of downloading copyrighted content illegally.
The good news however (at least as far as we are concerned), is that the agreement has been ‘watered down beyond all recognition’ from the entertainment industry bodies’ original plans, which wanted the letters to warn repeat offenders that they could face punitive punishment, and for ISP to compile a database of known pirates, which could then be used as the basis for further legal action.
The Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (Vcap) will instead take a much softer approach, with the letters being ‘educational’ in tone, aimed at ‘promoting an increase in awareness’ over copyright infringement issues.
ISPs will keep a database of infringers’ details for up to a year, but these will not be shared with the record labels, movie studios or other third parties, and an individual can only receive a maximum of four letters per year, following which no further action will be taken by the ISP. There will also be a 2.5 million cap to the number of letters send in total.
Steve Kuncewicz, a lawyer specialising in online and internet law told the BBC that,
‘I imagine the content owners are going to be very angry about it. There’s no punitive backstop to any of this.’
In order to cover the additional administrative costs to ISPs that Vcap will incur, the BPI and MPA have agreed to pay £75,000 each year (75% of the total costs, whichever is smaller).
What this means in practice
The first letters are expected to be sent out in 2015, but as the code is entirely voluntary and only applies to the big ISPs mentioned above, customers of smaller ISP’s will be unaffected (for one such ISP’s reaction to the agreement see here).
TorrentFreak reports that it has unearthed additional details on how the scheme will work …
- the Vcap system will only apply to P2P file-sharing – in practice this means only BitTorrent traffic (as this is the only P2P system popular enough to be worth monitoring), and does not include other popular file sharing methods, such as Usenet or downloading from file hosting websites such as RapidShare, Hotfile and 4Shared.
- letters will only be sent to repeat offenders – unlike in the US, where under the ‘six-strikes’ scheme offenders receive a letter every time they are detected filesharing, letters will only be sent to repeat offenders (which makes sense given the cap on the total number of letters sent)
- ISPs will use a third party company to track piracy – rather than tracking customers themselves. The most likely candidate for this job is MarkMonitor (Dtecnet), who are also the technology partner for the U.S. Copyright Alert System
Despite being a very mild anti-piracy plan (especially when compared to similar plans elsewhere), we encourage UK P2Pers to protect themselves by using VPN when downloading . We also strongly suggest everyone in Britain use VPN religiously anyway, to protect against the outrageous predations of GHCQ.