ISPs’ letters to pirates “watered down” under new deal

Plans for ISPs to send out warning letters to customers accused of persistent piracy have been softened, with the message more educational than accusatory.

ISPs' letters to pirates

The move is part of the 2010 Digital Economy Act, which outlined measures to battle piracy through sending out letters to those thought to be infringing copyright online.

A report from the BBC suggests a deal is set to be struck between ISPs to send “educational” letters to customers, alerting them that they have been breaking copyright laws. A maximum of four letters will be sent; if the individual continues to pirate content, no further action will be taken.

Such letters are a weaker response than the original approach outlined, which would have included threats of cutting off internet access to repeat offenders. The original plans also aimed to set up a database of known pirates, with the potential to take further legal action against them, but neither provision is included in the leaked plans, the report said.

Lawyer Steve Kuncewicz told the BBC that rights-holders wouldn’t be happy with the changes, describing the plans as “watered down beyond all recognition”.

Industry insiders have told PC Pro that ISPs have fought back against rights-holder pressure for access to customer data and to avoid a accusatory tone in letters.

Regular PC Pro readers will recall the ACS Law case, which saw threatening letters sent to accused pirates; ISPs will surely be keen to avoid going so far in messages sent to their own customers.

ISPs have confirmed that a deal has been discussed but not yet decided upon. If agreement is reached, the letters will start being sent out in 2015.

Gareth Mead, a spokesperson for Virgin Media, said: “We’re engaged in conversations with rights-holders and other broadband providers about a proposed Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme.”

A TalkTalk spokesperson said: “We continue to be involved in discussions about voluntary measures that both address illegal file-sharing that also protect our customers’ best interests.”

BT’s line was largely similar. “BT is committed to supporting the UK’s creative industries by helping to tackle the problem of online piracy while ensuring the best possible experience for customers,” the company said in a statement. “With that goal in mind, we have been engaged in ongoing discussions with rights-holders and other broadband providers to explore how a voluntary approach to consumer education and awareness could promote the use of legal online content.”

Counting the cost

The BBC report also revealed the costs of the programme: rights-holders will pay £750,000 to each ISP or 75% of the total cost of the system, whichever is least. They will also pay £75,000 annually or 75% of total running costs.

That suggests the programme will cost as much as £3 million to set up, with an annual cost thereafter of£300,000 to maintain.

While the educational approach is much weaker than threatening legal action, recent research from Portsmouth University suggested pirates are likely to cut down their illegal downloading if shown the negative affects on the film and music industry.

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