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Nobody Wants to Talk About UK ISP Internet Piracy Alert Emails

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 (7:54 am) - Score 20,809

At the start of 2017 several ISPs, including BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband, began sending the first internet piracy warning emails (“subscriber alerts“) to those suspected of taking part in copyright infringement (here). Today even the government are still clueless as to its progress.

The voluntary scheme forms part of the government fostered Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative, which prior to January 2017 had been gestating for several years (here and here). As part of that the ISPs agreed to adopt a Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), which aimed 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 (such networks will often expose your IP address to the public internet and Rights Holders can track that).

Crucially these “alerts” were different from the bullying letters sent by dubious copyright protection firms (aka – “speculative invoicing“). Unlike those the new messages didn’t contain any threats or demands for money and only acted as a tool for educating users about legal alternatives (Netflix, Spotify etc.) via the Get It Right from a Genuine Site campaign; the idea being to discourage future infringement, as opposed to punishment.

The emails applied a 20 day period of grace, thus if you were a repeat infringer then you wouldn’t see another message until 20 days after the first and so forth.

sky broadband uk isp piracy email
Sample letter published by TorrentFreak

The new messages formed part of a wider package of initiatives by CCUK that were design 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 uses to sites that are known to offer infringing content and of course the continued ISP blocking of piracy websites via a court order.

Progress of the unknown

Fast forward roughly 16 months and by this point we expected to know a little more about the scheme’s progress, which is necessary in order to judge its impact upon consumers and the wider landscape of casual copyright infringement. Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts over the past year, nobody involved wants to discuss the scheme’s progress. We had four simple questions for CCUK, the government and ISPs (we wanted to know even more than this but sometimes you have to simplify).

ISPreview.co.uk’s Four Questions

1. How many “subscriber alerts” have been issued by each of the relevant ISPs to customers in its first year of operation since the system was introduced (i.e. Jan 2017 to Jan 2018)?

2. How many customers have been issued with more than one “subscriber alert” message since the system was introduced?

3. Do you think any improvements could or should be made to the alert system?

4. What positive changes have been observed as a result of this specific activity, as well as that of the wider campaign?

In response the ISPs either didn’t comment or simply redirected us to CCUK, which seems to use the PR wing of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Sadly the latter could only inform us that the programme was still “under review” (it’s been that way since it started) and were “not in a position to share that information at this time.” However we were informed that a new phase of the ‘Get it Right‘ consumer campaign was due to launch in H1 2018, although it’s unclear what that will entail.

After growing tired of asking we then lodged a Freedom of Information (FoI) request with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), which has responsibility for copyright and helped to establish the original campaign. Surely, we thought, they would want to keep an eye on what they’d helped to create but no such luck, apparently they’re clueless.

IPO Statement

“I am writing to advise you that I have established that the information you requested is not held by the IPO as it refers to what is an industry-led campaign. Consequently the IPO does not have any relevant records to disclose.

With regard to your third and fourth questions, I regret that the IPO is not in a position to comment on progress of the initiative or suggest improvements to the subscriber alerts or the wider campaign because they are managed entirely by the participating broadband providers.”

Funny, we’ve seen that the government can hold statistics and data on other industry-led campaigns for different things but apparently not one they’ve helped to create. Interestingly the IPO also said that the campaign is “managed entirely by the participating broadband providers“, which is despite the ISPs saying it was all down to CCUK. Nothing like a good old fashioned game of ‘pass the buck’.

As it stands none of the players appear to have established any criteria for judging the progress of this system and equally none of the ISPs have shown a willingness to clarify how much it has cost to implement or run. Something like this is bound to cost money and such things usually need at least a few basic checks and balances in order to ensure that they’re having the desired impact (i.e. reducing piracy and fewer email alerts over time).

On the other hand gauging any reduction in copyright infringement would be difficult because those who receive a warning could easily adopt a different approach and mask their activity (VPN, Proxy Servers etc.), which would make it almost impossible for either ISPs or Rights Holders to tackle.

Ordinarily we’d be able to use some of our industry sources to extract a few unofficial details from the ISPs but in this case only a select group of people inside each provider appear to know anything about it. Perhaps this is one approach that may end up being swept under the carpet of history.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. Jigsy says:

    From what I can gather, due to IPv4 exhaustion, I share my IP with other people in the country which is then routed through some kind of proxy on my ISP end.

    I know this because those “you have downloaded” sites list all sorts of things I would never download even if you paid me. Like rap music, soccer games…

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      The “reliability” of IP address based evidence is of course another story entirely 🙂 , although a number of court cases have shown just how fallible it is.

  2. asrab uddin says:

    Of course they are going to keep quiet – can you imagine if Virgin or BT said they had sent x number of notification many people would be jumping ship to another (smaller) isp that docent support this scheme,

  3. /me suggests asking the same questions to ISPA might provide an interesting addition to your article

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      I did ask them once last year and drew a blank on the statistical data side of that request but will try again.

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      As expected.. “We’re not part of the campaign so are unable to assist with your questions.”

  4. Mike says:

    Buy a VPN router, never see one of these again.

    1. CarlT says:

      Indeed. Just send all your data through some random company instead. What could go wrong?

  5. Lomasz Tlim says:

    VPN on cheap VPS somewhere in EU is the solution for everything. Can be even shared between you and your friends.

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