Anti-piracy letter plans face delay over costs

Copyright infringement letters "unlikely" to go out next year as planned under the Digital Economy Act

Stewart Mitchell
6 Feb 2013

Government plans to send letters to file-sharers who download copyright material could be delayed after a key document outlining who should pay for the anti-piracy measures was withdrawn.

The Digital Economy Act lays out plans to send letters to file-sharers in a bid to protect the creative industries, but the "Sharing of Costs Order" - a key document in the process - has been pulled from the parliamentary process.

The resulting delays make it less likely the government will get anti-piracy measures, including warning letters and traffic blocks for repeat offenders, up and running for March 2014 as scheduled.

The Sharing of Costs Order details who should pay for the set-up and running costs of policing DEA enforcements, with ISPs and digital rights holders contributing.

"We need to make technical changes to the cost-sharing statutory instrument," a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said. "These changes will not impact on the overall effect of the legislation. We will re-introduce the statutory instrument as soon as possible."

In the grand scheme of things it makes it look like the target for sending out letters in 2014 is possibly no longer realistic

According to digital rights campaigners that have been liaising with DCMS officials on the legislation, the document was withdrawn after objections from the Treasury, which was concerned the costs order failed to meet the Treasury's "Managing Public Money" guidelines.

The Treasury has yet to explain its objections, but the order – initially drafted by the DCMS with help from Ofcom - will now need to be redrafted and resubmitted to parliament.

It's unclear how long this will delay the introduction of the DEA, which was widely criticised as being poorly planned by the outgoing government back in 2010 when it was rushed through in the wash-up.

However, the latest roadblock for the DEA – which was previously delayed by court appeals from BT and TalkTalk – looks likely to scupper the plans to start sending letters out to copyright infringers next spring.

"It's going to take time – it has to go through the parliamentary process and then through the EU," said Peter Bradwell of the Open Rights Group. "In the grand scheme of things, it makes it look like the target for sending out letters in 2014 is possibly no longer realistic."

Public concerns

According to Bradwell, the Treasury could be concerned that public funds are being spent on a mechanism to generate income for private companies, with no real detail on when the money would be paid back.

"Ofcom is spending hefty amounts of public money, which ultimately would be paid back by copyright owners participating in the scheme," he said.

"The government maintains the issue now is technical compliance with the guidelines. The exact reasons are not clear. But the fact that Ofcom is stumping up many millions of pounds with apparently no clear commitment from copyright owners about who will pay it back, and when, could be part of the problem."

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