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UK ISPs and Rights Holders to Begin Internet Anti-Piracy Campaign

Wednesday, Jul 15th, 2015 (12:16 pm) - Score 2,523

The Government is nearly ready to join with Rights Holders and four of the country’s largest broadband ISPs to kick off a major “multi-media education campaign“, which will encourage Internet users to “do the right thing” and use legal services instead of piracy. Warning letters (email alerts) will also be sent to some broadband subscribers.

The so-called Creative Content UK initiative, which is “voluntarily” supported by BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband, was officially set in motion one year ago (here) and followed many years’ worth of squabbling between the different sides.

Part of the problem stemmed from 2010’s disastrously rushed introduction of the Digital Economy Act (DEAct), which attempted to force an array of controversial anti-piracy enforcement measures upon ISPs (e.g. website blocking and warning letters with a threat of disconnection for repeat offenders etc.).

In the end many of the DEAct’s measures were obstructed by issues of cost, legal squabbles (e.g. BT and TalkTalk’s Judicial Review), political disagreements and concerns over the reliability of IP address based evidence (even good data only identifies the bill payer and on a shared network they might not be the perpetrator).

Despite these problems the Government kept pushing for more action and last year reached a voluntary agreement with ISPs, which will match a big education campaign with the more controversial Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (warning letters that will be sent to suspected pirates).

The Campaign

The campaign, which is part-funded by the government (around £3.5 million if we recall correctly), aims to target 16-24 year-olds, their parents, those responsible for household internet connections, as well as “others who influence young people’s attitudes to accessing content“.

Apparently the public relations firm Weber Shandwick will lead an integrated consumer, corporate and social PR campaign, with activities scheduled to start “later this summer“. Elsewhere Atomic London will work on advertising creative, while media planning and buying will be directed by ZenithOptimedia.

Janis Thomas, Education Manager at Creative Content UK, said:

We are delighted to have three highly experienced agencies on-board to help us create disruptive and engaging multi-media campaigns that will connect with the aspirations of young people. This behaviour change initiative is vital to the success of the sector and will ensure that we can continue innovating and taking risks on new artists and ideas.

We aim to inspire individuals to make a personal commitment to the future of the UK creative industries and to the creation of music, film, games and other entertainment, which they love so much.”

It’s understood that VCAP warning letters, or “subscriber alerts programme” as the politicians prefer to call it, will “follow after the education campaign launch” (most likely before the end of 2015) and aims to “send millions of educational notices” to those detected by copyright owners as infringing via “unlawful” peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing (e.g. BitTorrent).

Rights Holders typically harvest the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of suspected Internet pirates from public P2P networks and this data is then supplied to ISPs, which where possible will attempt to identify the related connections / customers and send out their “educational” letters (alerts).

However the letters will not be bullying or threatening like those that are so frequently sent by questionable law firms. In fact they will contain no threats or demands for money and should only act as a tool for educating customers about the legal alternatives (e.g. Netflix etc.).

Part of the idea is that if related subscribers know they can be identified then it’s hoped that most should cease their activity, although equally some may make themselves less detectable (VPN, Proxy server etc.). But it’s also possible that the alerts may end up causing frustration for consumers who end up being incorrectly targeted (on a shared network the bill-payer may not be the one responsible).

Indeed IP addresses are an inherently unreliable method of identifying infringers. Related addresses can easily be redirected, spoofed and any small discrepancy in the Rights Holders logs could create problems with matching an address to the correct customer (several law firms ran into this difficulty when attempting to prosecute alleged offenders).

Anybody with a long enough memory may recall that we’ve been down the voluntary path once before in June 2008 (here) and with mixed results (here). At the time BT complained that many of the IP addresses it received could not be matched to their customers and that those they contacted were never taken to court, which meant the ISP didn’t “know whether they were actually guilty of infringement“.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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