Ofcom is close to publishing the final version of a code that will govern how copyright holders and internet service providers will identify suspected file-sharers.
Speaking at a conference on Thursday about parliament and the internet, the regulator's chief executive, Ed Richards, said Ofcom had "clear duties" in formulating the code, as a result of the Digital Economy Act. However, he also warned that the enforcement regime outlined in the code would have to be accompanied by viable ways for people to access music and videos legally, if unlawful file-sharing is to be successfully combated.
"We expect to publish a code in this area in the next few weeks," Richards said. "It will be about enforcement, about introducing the measures that the act sets out. We will do it and observe how that unfolds over the next few months.
"But it's also the point at which the other part of the story needs to be told — [about] the legitimate offers and commercial propositions which sit in parallel to the enforcement regime, that [let people download content] in an honest and legal way. If one is there and the other is not, it would take a very great optimist to believe we can get to the right place," Richards added.
The code will be built on a draft that Ofcom published at the end of May. A consultation on the draft subsequently took place, but Ofcom would not reveal to ZDNet UK on Thursday how the responses to that consultation may have effected changes between the draft and the final code.
The draft code established the 'initial obligations' that would be imposed on ISPs with 400,000 or more customers as a result of the Digital Economy Act. Affected ISPs would have to notify customers whose IP addresses have been identified by rights holders as being used for unlawful file-sharing.
If three infringements on one IP address were to take place within a year, the ISP would then have to include that customer on an anonymised list to be given to any rights holder who had made one of the relevant infringement claims. The rights holder could then gain a court order to have the subscriber identified and penalised.
The code does not cover the actual penalties, which under the terms of the act could theoretically extend to account suspension. That side of the enforcement process will have to be addressed by the business secretary after a year's interval to see whether the notifications process alone cuts down on infringement by at least 70 percent.
However, as Richards and the act itself have pointed out, new consumer offerings are also seen as essential to cutting down on unlawful file-sharing. Some have suggested that ISPs could offer flat-fee music subscription services, for example. However, all attempts to implement this have come to nothing, partly due to disputes over financial compensation, and partly because it is difficult to establish a service that covers all the major record labels.