Educational letters will be sent to ISP subscribers who are suspected of online copyright infringement.

The big four UK ISPs will begin sending educational letters to subscribers suspected of sharing copyrighted content on the Internet. BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband have voluntarily joined the government-sponsored Creative Content UK (CCUK) initiative to take part in the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP) which aims to send "millions of educational notices" to detected copyright infringers.

Letters are expected to start over the next 2-3 weeks. ISPreview notes that it is up to the copyright owners to detect infringement of intellectual property rights, most of whom use an agency to trawl P2P networks for copyrighted files. By using the IP address(es) associated with a shared file rights holders are able to notify ISPs through VCAP.

The programme is designed to be educational, rather than threatening users with legal action or demanding an out of court settlement. Letters will also help educate users about legal alternatives.

Online commentators note that educational letters may not be enough, but in my experience it will be. As a technology teacher in a previous life, nearly half of my students were surprised to learn that downloading music or movies were illegal. It made for an interesting class.

A spokesperson for Virgin Media spoke to ISPreview about the programme;

ISPs will not carry out any monitoring of their subscribers’ activity. Right holders will not have access to any personal information about alleged infringers. [..] The entire programme is fully compliant with applicable laws and regulations including the Data Protection Act 1998 – and with best practices as published by the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office).

On the surface this appears to be a fair and balanced approach to rights management in the UK. Let's hope it continues to operate within the ICO's guidelines. It's a shame, then, that ISPs are still required to monitor subscriber activity under other government initiatives.

Other aspects of CCUK aim to reduce copyright infringement by preventing filesharing sites from earning money through payment gateways, preventing them from advertising, and encouraging search engines to block sites which promote copyright infringement.

Feature photograph by BDUK Broadband.

About the author

Xander has worked as an Internet consultant for FTSE100 companies and start-ups for nearly 20 years. He sometimes drinks too much coffee and stares at the wall. He doesn't like to talk about himself in the third person.