UK ISPs to alert customers suspected of unlawfully downloading copyrighted material

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Major British internet service providers will start sending out alerts to subscribers they believe to be unlawfully downloading copyrighted material. But there won’t be any consequences beyond that.

The letter-writing campaign comes as part of a broader “consumer awareness” drive about legitimate online content services, run by Creative Content U.K., a partnership between ISPs and rights-holder groups. It will begin sometime after the spring of 2015, when the coalition will launch a “a major multimedia education awareness campaign, led by content creators and part-funded by government, that aims to create wider appreciation of the value and benefits of entertainment content and copyright.”

The ISPs will send out alerts — up to four a year — to suspected infringers telling them that “unlawful filesharing may have taken place on their connect and offering advice on where to find legitimate sources of entertainment content.” That’s it, though. This campaign won’t lead to people getting their connections suspended.

Four years ago, it did very much look as if people in the U.K. would be cut off for so-called piracy. The Digital Economy Act 2010, fast-tracked through the parliamentary process at the end of the last government, gave the government the ability to bring in such “technical measures.” However, arguably due to the rushed nature of the legislation, its implementation has seen numerous delays due to (unsuccessful) legal challenges and arguments over costs.

In the meantime, France provided an excellent case study for what happens when you do move on to cutting people off from the internet – a three-strikes-and-you’re-out provision in its Hadopi copyright law, also introduced in 2010, was scrapped in 2013 because the penalty was disproportionate and the whole system overly expensive.

It seems the British government and rights-holder industry are currently content with going after copyright-infringement-friendly sites and platforms instead, targeting their funding by working with advertisers and payment processors, and blocking access to them at the ISP level. In France, the authorities have gone a step further by ordering search engines to pretend that these sites don’t exist.

Of course, the digital media delivery scene looks very different these days from the way it was back in 2010, what with services such as Spotify and Amazon Instant Video allowing people to listen to or view almost everything they like for free (at least when it comes to music) or at low cost.

It’s doubtful that people who unlawfully download copyrighted material are unaware of these services — and there’s a lot of relatively obscure content that remains impossible to find legally — but they are easier to use and less risky, and there’s nothing wrong with reminding people that they’re out there.

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