ISPs and content industries tease out voluntary three strike scheme in the UK

June 2014



Four of the UK’s leading internet service providers are in talks with the content industries about establishing a “Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme”, which would introduce stage one of a three strikes (graduated response) system to combat online piracy. These schemes usually start with a warning – followed by second warning to stop infringing activities  – and then finally a sanction such as the suspension or ‘throttling’ of the alleged infringer’s broadband connection.

The 2010 Digital Economy Act put in place a framework for a three strikes system in the UK but this has yet to be activated (and the ‘third strike’ was never defined) – in part because of resistance from ISPs and the technology sector, and a perceived reluctance of politicians to grasp this thorny ‘consumer facing’ issue. In the US, the ISPs have voluntarily introduced an voluntary ‘six strikes’ scheme called the Copyright Alert System.

What is now being discussed between the recorded music and and film industries in the UK and Virgin Media, BT, Sky and TalkTalk is seemingly more similar to the US system  – one or more warnings or ‘educational’ communication(s) – but no actual punitive sanctions will be applied. In a move the ISPs must hope will avoid the statutory system set out in the DEA being put in place.  Initial reports that VCAP was a done deal and ready to go had been denied by the record industry’s trade body the BPI, though it confirmed that talks are ongoing, and industry insiders say they are hopeful the initiative could launch later this year.

According to the BBC, the current draft framework would see the content industries provide 75% the funding to each of the four ISPs to run the scheme (capped at £750,000 each ISP) , and that there would be cap on how many individuals the labels and studios could file complaints about each year. A spokesperson for the BPI said: “Content creators and ISPs have, with the support of government, been working in partnership to develop a joint awareness programme that would support the growth of legal digital entertainment services, reduce illegal downloading and create the best possible customer experience online. Discussions are ongoing and no agreement has been reached – reports that an announcement is imminent are wide of the mark. We will comment further if and when any agreement is in place”.

In France, anti-piracy agency Hadopi has published a report recommending new measures to help with the battle against online piracy: The report makes suggestions along the same lines as recommendations made by the UK Prime Minister’s special adviser on IP, Mike Weatherley MP, in particular focussing on ‘going after the money’, by making sure piracy sites lose access to advertising income and payment processing services. Hadopi also want a black list of sites deemed to be piracy operations to be made public, whereas similar lists have in the past been circulated mainly to a trade audience of ad agencies and financial services firms,  as well as introducing a ‘super takedown’ procedure where rights owners would be able to issue ‘stay-down’ notices, which not only order a web-platform to take infringing content down, but obligate the web operator to ensure the offending content does not reappear on its servers for a set period of time.

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