ISP threat letters have 'positive effect', says Ofcom

Sending letters to internet users suspected of filesharing is a successful way of cutting down on such activity, the head of Ofcom said on Thursday.Ed Richards, the chief executive of the telecoms regulator, told ZDNet UK in Brussels that "letter-writing itself, if done properly, seems to have had a positive effect", for example by alerting parents to their children's activities.

Sending letters to internet users suspected of filesharing is a successful way of cutting down on such activity, the head of Ofcom said on Thursday.

Ed Richards, the chief executive of the telecoms regulator, told ZDNet UK in Brussels that "letter-writing itself, if done properly, seems to have had a positive effect", for example by alerting parents to their children's activities.

Over the last year or so, some ISPs have sent letters to suspected filesharers, warning them that their activity has been noted and telling them to stop. This is similar to the first stage of Sarkozy's 'three-strikes' approach, which culminated in the user being disconnected (Sarkozy's Hadopi law was, however, recently deemed unenforceable by the French constitutional court).

It is also the same initial stage that was recommended by the government in its Digital Britain report last week. In this case, the first letter could be followed by the release of the user's identity to the rights holder, then – potentially – technical measures such as protocol blocking or bandwidth throttling.

The ISP must, of course, first be told by the rights holder that the user is suspected of filesharing. The rights holders – record companies and so on – find this information out by monitoring filesharing sites and logging IP addresses and times, then passing that information on to the ISP. By then identifying the user to the rights holder, the ISP would be opening that user up to a civil suit, as copyright infringement is not a criminal offence.

Ofcom is currently starting to consider the issues around IP address privacy, as proposed by the government.

The new legislation that is needed to put the Digital Britain recommendations into practice will go before parliament immediately after the summer recess, ZDNet UK understands.

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