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UK Internet providers to send warning letters to suspected pirates

updated 10:16 am EDT, Fri May 9, 2014

Piracy warning letters deal close to completion, lacks penalty for infringing

Internet service providers (ISPs) in the United Kingdom are close to an agreement with parts of the entertainment industry, which will attempt to fight piracy in the country. The Voluntary Copyright Alert Program (Vcap), stemming from the Digital Economy Act of 2010, will see BT, Talk Talk, Virgin Media, and Sky sending warning letters to customers identified as possible infringers, though it appears that, unlike the Six Strikes system used by the Center for Copyright Infromation in the US, the scheme may not penalize infringers at all.

A document seen by the BBC states the letters would be "educational" in tone, and "promoting an increase in awareness" of existing legal downloading services, with ISPs keeping track of which accounts received letters for up to a year. The British Phonographic Industry and the Motion Picture Association, bodies for music and film in the country, originally wanted the letters to include details of possible punitive measures, and access to a database of known downloaders for potential legal action. Instead, they would receive a monthly breakdown of how many letters were sent, with a private database retained by the ISPs logging letters sent over a one-year period.

While the scheme will not detail in letters what guilty infringers face if they continue, though the letters will get more serious in tone as they get closer to each individual's maximum of four letters, it will still not keep pirates in the clear. Entertainment industry bodies can still go after infringers, though they will need to perform a separate investigation and deal with the parties involved through the courts.

In order to fund the system, rights holders would pay £750,000 ($1.27 million) towards the initial set-up, or up to 75 percent of the cost, with either £75,000 ($127,000) or 75 percent of administration costs paid yearly. The number of letters sent per year will also be capped to 2.5 million, though this and the costs involved could increase if more ISPs join the scheme.

A joint statement from the BPI and MPA states "Content creators and ISPs, with the support of government, have been exploring the possibility of developing an awareness program that will support the continuing growth of legal creative content services, reduce copyright infringement, and create the best possible consumer experience online." The bodies declined to comment to the BBC about the leaked document.

Vcap is expected to be finalized in the near future, but still requires approval by the Information Commissioner's Office. Once completed, the first letters under the scheme are expected to be sent next year.

The United Kingdom is still preparing to modernize its copyright laws, with changes in June 1st set to formally legalize the copying of books, CDs, DVD, and other media for personal use, such as "format shifting or backup."

by MacNN Staff



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