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Friday, 16 May 2014

BPI, MPA and ISPs go VCAP against P2P while DEA is still MIA

While this Kat was busy in Hong Kong hosting an INTA Table Topic discussion on battling online infringement, news emerged of progress in talks between UK ISPs and rights owners on the development of a voluntary “four strikes” (but no “out”) anti-piracy regime. There’s not much of definitive substance to report yet, but here’s a heads up from my colleague Will Corbett and me.

As noted in the 1709 blog, the BBC recently reported on a leaked document suggesting that UK music and film industry representatives are close to reaching a deal with UK ISPs on a voluntary scheme for addressing unlawful downloading by UK Internet users.

The VCAP's strikes will lack this sort of impact
The scheme is being developed in parallel to the regulations which will govern the operation of the UK’s Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA), regulations which probably won’t appear until the end of next year at the earliest. The DEA followed an earlier failure by the ISPs and entertainment industry to agree voluntary measures, but they are now back on the table.

The DEA was/is set to involve ISPs sending out increasingly angry letters to subscribers who are caught indulging in peer to peer file sharing, with repeat offenders going on a naughty list which rights owners could peruse to choose the juiciest targets for follow-up litigation. “Technical measures”, to include bandwidth throttling and temporary disconnection, were envisaged as a next phase, but there is currently no timetable at all for their appearance.

The voluntary measures under development are called the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), and if the BBC’s report is anything to go by represent a step back from what the entertainment industry was originally asking for. Letters would have told repeat infringers about possible punitive measures and ISPs would have made available a database of known illegal downloaders, opening the possibility of further legal action against individuals. But what the BBC is reporting as the final draft of VCAP contains neither of these things. The BBC reports that 'letters sent to suspected infringers must be "educational" in tone, "promoting an increase in awareness" of legal downloading services.' The language of each letter will increase in “severity” but will “not contain threats or talk of consequences for the accused users”. Up to four letters may be sent to particular users, but after that ISPs will do precisely nothing. The entertainment industry will also contribute up to £750,000 to each ISP to set up the system and up to £75,000 a year to keep it running.
Piracy is everywhere

On the entertainment industry side of the negotiations is the BPI (representing the British music industry) and the Motion Picture Association (MPA). Four of the UK’s five biggest ISPs are involved – BT, Virgin, Sky and TalkTalk – while the fifth, EE, appears strangely absent.

The VCAP comes across as a bit of a damp squib, which is something of an achievement given how disappointingly absent the DEA has been the past four years. Of course, such a light touch system may be a stroke of genius on the part of the entertainment industry. The BBC cites a commentator’s speculation that the entertainment industry has agreed to this deal in order to collect evidence that a voluntary approach simply cannot produce results, thereby providing justification for pushing through stronger legislation-backed measures under the DEA.

As ever, the IPKat and friends shall keep you posted.  

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