ISPreview.co.uk can today confirm that the first Internet piracy warning letters (aka – “subscriber alerts” or “educational emails“) will this month begin to be sent by all of the biggest broadband ISPs. The “alerts” will be issued to those users who are suspected of engaging in online copyright infringement.
The scheme, which forms part of the Government fostered Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative that has been gestating for a very long time (here and here), is “voluntarily” supported by BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband.
As part of this the ISPs have agreed to adopt a Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), which aims to “send millions of educational notices” to those detected by copyright owners as infringing their content via “unlawful” Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File-Sharing (e.g. BitTorrent) networks (these networks will often expose your IP address to the public Internet and Rights Holders can spot that).
Unlike the bullying letters sent by dubious copyright protection firms (aka – “speculative invoicing“), the “alerts” issued by this new system will NOT contain any threats or demands for money and should only act as a tool for educating customers about the legal alternatives (Netflix and Spotify etc.). The idea is to discourage future infringement, as opposed to punishment.
A Spokesperson for Virgin Media told ISPreview.co.uk:
“ISPs will not carry out any monitoring of their subscribers’ activity. Right holders will not have access to any personal information about alleged infringers. Right holders will merely flag to participating ISPs individual IP addresses (in “Copyright Infringement Reports” – or CIRs) that have been detected and verified where those IP addresses have been used to upload and share infringing content using ISPs’ networks. Rights holders will do this by using proven electronic scanning technologies which will be searching publicly available information.
No CIR will be sent to an ISP until it has been confirmed by the right holders that copyright infringement has taken place – and no educational email will be sent to a subscriber until the IP address in the applicable CIR that “triggers” the email can be matched to the correct active subscriber account. The entire programme is fully compliant with applicable laws and regulations including the Data Protection Act 1998 – and with best practices as published by the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office).”
The CCUK approach appears to recognise that IP address based evidence is far from perfect (even accurate data only identifies the bill payer and on a shared network they might not be the perpetrator). Many people may not even realize that their account has been used to share such files (e.g. children using the connection for unlawful purposes) and thus it can be very difficult to prove who is actually the guilty party (previous court cases have failed), thus the voluntary alerts system was born.
The new programme forms part of a wider package of initiatives by CCUK that are required to address online copyright infringement, such as working with advertisers and payment processors to cut off revenue to “illegal” sites, encouraging search engines to play a more active role by not directing consumers to sites that are known to offer infringing content and of course the continued blocking of piracy sites via court order.
Outside of this particular initiative there are other methods that Rights Holders can use (e.g. the “speculative invoicing” approach) should they wish to take legal action against users or send demands for money, but that decision would be in the hands of the individual Rights Holders and remains entirely separate from this campaign.
All or at least some of the big four ISPs will imminently begin to send the first alerts within the next 2-3 weeks. Sadly none of the ISPs could tell us how much the system is costing them to implement and there is a lot of speculation about the potential effectiveness of such a scheme.
On the other hand the UK music industry appears to be doing well (here) and the rise in affordable legal alternatives is clearly having a positive impact, not least by pulling people away from piracy. However the new approach seems unlikely to discourage younger Internet users (i.e. those who have no money to spend on media in the first place) or hard-core pirates, many of whom can simply mask their connection online (VPN, Proxy etc.) to avoid detection.
UPDATE 12th Jan 2017
Sample Piracy “Alert” Email / Letter
Get It Right from a Genuine Site’ has got in touch with us.
Get it Right is a government-backed campaign acting for copyright owners who think their content’s been shared without their permission.
It looks like someone has been using your broadband to share copyrighted material (that means things like music, films, sport or books).
And as your broadband provider, we have to let you know when this happens.
[List of the content in question]
[Further guidance on how to stop the activity]
UPDATE 25th Jan 2017
Apparently there will be a 20 day period of grace between letters, so if you’re a repeat infringer then you won’t see another message until 20 days after the first and so forth. Some ISPs may try to spin this into a kind of threat, but at present there’s still no punishment and thus it’s really more of an annoyance.