The UK government’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has confirmed that it now expects broadband ISPs to start issuing their first
warning Notification Letters to customers, those whom are suspected of internet piracy, during “the latter half of 2015“. Over a year’s delay from the previous “early” 2014 target.
Notification Letters form a significant part of the wider Digital Economy Act (DEAct) and Ofcom’s related Initial Obligations Code for ISPs. The DEAct was passed into law during 2010 but has since been beset by no end of squabbles over legal viability, costs, practicality and political disagreements.
But last year it looked like progress had finally been made and implementation was initially scheduled to begin during early 2014. All this fell apart again when, in February 2013, the HM Treasury quietly withdrew vital secondary legislation (Sharing of Costs Order) that sets out how the costs of its controversial measures were to be shared (here).
The order requires ISPs to pay around a quarter (25%) of the costs and Rights Holders would bear all of the costs incurred by Ofcom, the majority of costs incurred by an appeals body and 75% of the costs “efficiently and reasonably incurred by Qualifying ISPs” (i.e. only the markets biggest broadband ISPs) in carrying out their obligations. It also sets out the structure for the £20 fee for appeals by ISP subscribers.
However the HM Treasury warned that it needed to make “technical changes” to ensure that the legislation could meet their “Managing Public Money” guidelines, which required the whole order to be redrafted and resubmitted to parliament. The changes were not expected to “impact on the overall effect of the legislation” but clearly the delay has been more significant than first thought.
The government’s Communications Minister, Ed Vaizey, has since confirmed to a recent roundtable meeting (attended by everybody from the BPI to Google and some big name ISPs like BT and Sky Broadband), which was setup to discuss Online Infringement of Copyright, that “Subject to clearance, DCMS expects the first letters to be sent in the latter half of 2015.” Apparently once the updated costs order is laid in Parliament then Ofcom will also “consider whether re-consultation on aspects of the Code will be required“.
Darren Farnden, Business ISP Entanet’s Head of Marketing, said:
“We have to ask, is there any point to this Act? Surely enough time, resources and money has been wasted on getting this Act to a point where it can be fully used. Six years to get its ‘Act’ together?
There’s a mountain of reasons why this Act would never fully work, reasons which we’ve mentioned many times before. For one, the use of proxies and VPNs already exist to circumnavigate the DEA’s plans and avoid detection. There’s also the fact that pursuing potential infringers through the courts based on a single IP address is fundamentally flawed, especially with public WiFi hotspots and wireless networks that have been left unsecured.”
At the same meeting it was agreed that Ofcom should expand its research into online copyright infringement to also look at “infringement levels in other jurisdictions, technical research data, levels of advertising on infringing sites and search rankings“, although this would require officials from DCMS, IPO and Ofcom to agree additional funding. The regulators third wave of related consumer research was published at the end of May 2013 (here).
Finally the meeting also discussed the effectiveness of imposing website blocking (censoring access to internet piracy sites) through a court ordered process. The minutes of the meeting said that “the court procedure is becoming increasingly efficient and quick, although not quick enough to block streaming websites“.
Apparently ISPs, Rights Holders and the courts are now said to have “become more comfortable with the process” and it was noted that “blocked sites have dropped in search rankings and received less traffic“. In reality it’s difficult to gauge the accuracy of that traffic claim and some others reports have pointed to little or no change (once blocked the remote sources of traffic data become less reliable as the site is instead accessed indirectly).
Curiously there was no mention of the once mooted Voluntary Code of Practice for blocking sites, which seems to have been side-lined by the court process. But this might still surface in an update to the forthcoming Communications Bill (a draft could be published sometime this summer following repeated delays).
UPDATE 6th June 2013
Added a comment from Entanet above.