UK ISPs must warn alleged pirates, says draft Ofcom code

The U.K.'s communications regulator has outlined how ISPs must inform its alleged file-sharing customers that they could face legal action by rights holders under the U.K.'s anti-piracy law.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor on

Following the introduction of the Digital Economy Act, the U.K.'s anti-piracy law, the prospect of a three-strike system --- or "graduated response" --- was all but inevitable.

Ofcom, the U.K. communications regulator, has released the latest draft proposals outlining how alleged copyright infringers could be notified through "copyright infringement reports."

ISPs would also have to keep records on each subscriber, otherwise known as the "copyright infringement list," to ensure a three-strike system was met.

Internet users, who are suspected of piracy, will be sent a notification letter explaining that their Web activity is being monitored, and informed about ways of finding legal online content, such as through paid services.

Once an Internet user has been placed on the copyright infringement list following three notifications in a year, the regulator outlines how copyright owners will be able to seek a court order to uncover the user's personal details to seek legal action through the courts.

The U.K.'s largest broadband providers --- BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk Group, and Virgin Media --- which account for more than 92 percent of all U.K. broadband customers, will have to adhere to the code once it comes into force.

However, Internet users will be able to appeal each report for a cost of £20 ($31) --- which will be refunded if they are successful.

Ofcom says it expects the first notification letters be sent from "early 2014," an Ofcom spokesperson told ZDNet.

The first notification letters should have been sent back in 2011, but legal battles from BT and TalkTalk who tried to clarify the law delayed the process.

ISPs, who must contribute 75 percent of the cost of running the scheme, could be required to take practical steps against repeat offenders. These measures could include a limited broadband speed, or even suspending a user's account altogether.

Ofcom noted this would require additional legislation, and could only be considered following a year of sending out notification letters.

Ofcom's first draft, released in May 2010 following the passing of the law, has remained vastly unchanged.

The regulator will not only now have the authority to approve or reject how copyright owners gather information on potential infringements, it also says that ISPs would have to inform those allegedly caught downloading illegal content of how many times they have been flagged.

The consultation will go in until July 26, but a separate consultation on cost allocation will run until September 18.

The draft code's next stop is the European Commission, after which the U.K. Parliament must pass the code --- likely to go ahead by the end of this year.


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