Piracy warning letters: four strikes and you’re not out

People who persistently download music and films illegally will start receiving warning letters from their ISPs starting next year.

Piracy warning letters: four strikes and you're not out

However, there will be no follow-up action if people ignore them, and a maximum of four letters or emails will be issued per year.

The notices will be issued as part of the Creative Content UK programme, which is a voluntary alliance between ISPs and entertainment industry trade bodies, including the BPI and Motion Picture Association.

So far only the four largest internet providers – BT, TalkTalk, Virgin and Sky – have agreed to take part.

Creative Content UK stems from the Digital Economy Act 2010, which called for increasingly more severe sanctions to be applied to persistent illegal downloaders, starting with letters and progressing to bandwidth throttling and, ultimately, having their connection suspended.

However, ISPs argued the proposals in the Act didn’t align with European law, particularly with regard to customer privacy. They also claimed it would be costly to implement.

The organisation, which will receive £3.5 million in government funding, will run an educational programme aimed at informing the public about what is and isn’t legal online.

Adam Rendle, a senior associate at law firm Taylor Wessing, told PC Pro that Vcap notices could be useful in combating illegal downloading in cases where people are genuinely ignorant.

These included users fooled into thinking what they are doing is legal due to the “sophisticated” appearance of pirate websites, such as advertising from legitimate companies.

“They can also be useful for parents whose kids are downloading illegally in their bedrooms, helping them guide their children towards legitimate services like Spotify or Amazon Prime Instant Video,” he said.

However, Rendle admitted there is “a rump of committed pirates” who view their actions as a protest against the pricing and policies of the music industry, as well as those who simply don’t care that what they are doing is illegal.

Unintended consequences

British ISPs have been forced by courts to take part in the battle against piracy, notably by blocking websites that infringe copyright.

As if to illustrate Rendle’s point, notorious peer-to-peer file sharing site The Pirate Bay has seen its traffic double since UK and Dutch ISPs started blocking the site two years ago, according to Torrent Freak.

About 9% of all visitors to The Pirate Bay use proxies to access it, thus bypassing court-ordered blockades, the report said.

Recent research by network policy control firm Sandvine has shown that BitTorrent, another popular illegal download site, has remained popular since the blocks were put in place.

It receives the greatest proportion of upload traffic per month in Europe at 33.2%, and is the third most popular for download traffic at 11.1%.

By way of comparison, YouTube, which tops the downstream list, has a 19.27% share.

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