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UK broadband providers to send piracy alerts

Starting in 2015, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media will be sending out "educational" letters to customers they believe to be illegally downloading content from the web.

By on May 09, 2014 at 10:00 AM
UK broadband providers to send piracy alerts

As part of a new deal being struck with both BPI, which represents the British music industry, and the Motion Picture Association, internet providers will soon be sending out "alerts" to potential internet pirates. Those illegally downloading content from the web or torrent sites could start receiving their letters as early as 2015.

The deal has been in the works for years, according to an article by the BBC however, the measures outlined BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media are considerably weaker than originally asked for. When the debate began, almost four years ago, it was suggested that the letters should outline the possible punishments to repeat offenders. A database of known illegal downloader's would also be kept, making further legal action against individuals much easier to carry out.

However, the final draft of the new Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme, Vcap, contains no trace of these measures. Instead the letters will be much more "educational" in tone "promoting an increase in awareness" of legal downloading services.

The cost of cutting piracy

Rights holders have agreed to pay £750,000 to each internet service provider or 75% of total costs if that ends up being smaller, to set up the system. A further £75,000 will also be paid each year, or 75% of total cost, to cover administration costs. Every month they will receive a break down of how many alerts have been sent out, but only ISPs will know the identities of the customers involved. A cap has also been set, so between all four ISPs no more than 2.5 million alerts can be send out in a year.

The deal is now ready to be finalised pending approval from the Information Commissioner's Office for the way data from customers receiving alerts is collected. The remaining ISP's, including Plusnet and Primus, are expected to join the agreement at a later stage, this will also increase the yearly cap on alerts sent out.

How the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme will work

  1. Rights holders, such as the Motion Picture Association, will identify IP addresses, essentailly the thumb print of every device, that they believe to be downloading files illegally. This will be done through various methods, including the common practice of "listening in" to traffic on Bittorrent networks.
  2. A Copyright Infringement Report, or CIR, will be sent to the right ISP. So if you are downloading content using Virgin Media broadband, your network will receive a CIR containing the date and time the download took place and the IP address of the device you used.
  3. The ISP will then match the IP address to the customer. So in our example, Virgin Media will look at where that IP address was being used at the time of the download and pinpoint your location.
  4. At this point the alert will be sent out, either as an email or an actual physical letter.

Unfortunately identifying people this way is not an exact science, as there is no way of telling who was actually using the device to download content at the time. For instance, a guest might have used your PC to illegally download a movie or the neighbours could be downloading pirated music using your WiFi. This is the main reason no single person will be directly accused in the letters.

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