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Piracy wins! ISPs will only send out 'strongly worded letters' to illegal downloaders

James Temperton
9 May 2014
Piracy warning
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Compromised deal will see warning letters sent out, with rights holders not able to find out who has been illegally downloading films, TV shows and music

The film and music industry has been left fuming after a compromised deal was agreed with ISPs that will see frequent illegal downloaders sent strongly worded letters with no chance of legal action.

BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media will send "educational" letters to people caught downloading illegally, with the first batch of alerts being sent out in 2015.

It had been suggested that such warning letters would also include warnings of fines and legal action, but no such agreement has been included in the compromised deal.

The film and music industries had also wanted to create a vast database of all known illegal downloaders so they could take further legal action against individuals.

Instead, the letters will aim to promote awareness of legal downloading services. A database of which accounts have received letters will be kept by ISPs for up to a year, with rights holders receiving a monthly update on how many alerts have been sent out.

Crucially ISPs will not be allowed to reveal the identities of illegal downloaders. Both the BPI, which represents the British music industry and the MPA, which represents film, have signed up to the deal according to documents seen by the BBC.

Between them the four ISPs can only send out a total of 2.5 million alerts per year, with that cap being adjusted when more ISPs join the scheme. A maximum of four alert letters can be sent to an individual customer, with each letter being more strongly worded than the last.

None of the letters will contain threats, nor will there be any consequences for anyone who receives a letter. After four letters have been sent no further action will be taken by the ISP.

Known as the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme, letters will either be sent by post or email, with ISPs matching illegal downloaders to their IP address and location.

ISPs will also monitor traffic on file-sharing networks such as Bittorrent to track illegal downloaders. Reports of copyright infringement can then be matched to individual customer accounts, with letters or emails being sent. The alerts will not be addressed to an individual as a single IP address is likely to be used by more than one person.

Rights holders will be required to pay £750,000 towards each ISP taking part in the scheme, or 75 per cent of total costs, whichever is smaller. Administration costs of £75,000, or 75 per cent of total costs, will also be paid each year.

The controversial plans were first mooted in the Digital Economy Act in 2010, but ISPs and internet rights groups objected strongly to the proposals. The watered down compromise is likely to enrage the music and film industries, who had wanted far harsher punishments.

The new system will run for three years and will be regularly reviewed to see how well it is working.

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