Here we are in 2012 a couple of years after the idea of writing to alleged copyright infringers was first introduced, and we are still looking at a date of March 2014 before the first letters might be sent out. Another round of consultations are taking place, driven forward by Ofcom, there is a draft code of practice, with a short consultation until 26th July 2012 on this code. A longer consultation on the cost sharing that is part of the scheme will run until 18th September 2012.
The code whose core intention is to protect online copyright and inform consumers, is a requirement arising from the Digital Economy Act 2010. The code will only apply to those broadband providers with over 400,000 fixed lines, i.e. BT, Orange, O2, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, mobile broadband operators are not included. These six providers account for 93% of the fixed-line broadband market in the UK.
If the draft code does not change significantly then people accused of copyright infringement can expect to receive a maximum of one letter a month from March 2014, and if in any 12 month period the same account holder receives three letters, anonymised information will passed back to the copyright holders so that they can decide whether to seek a court order to reveal an account holders identity, and then pursue using the existing court systems via the Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988.
Account holders will have the right to appeal an alleged infringement letter, with a fee of £20 to be paid if the infringement is upheld. The methodologies used by copyright holders to identify IP addresses infringing will most likely change from the current system, that at times looks like a random lottery, with Ofcom having to approve each system used by the Copyright Holders. Ofcom wants to create a publically-available standard to promote good practice in the evidence gathering arena.
This complete process costs money to administer, and under current proposals, 75% of the costs will be bourne by copyright holders (ultimately meaning those buying legal material will bear the cost) and 25% by the broadband providers. Estimates suggest that for each provider the capital and fixed costs will be around £1.4m, with each notification costing around 80p. The cost to Ofcom of running the consultations, and acting as piggy in the middle will be charged to the Copyright Owners, with projections from 2010 to 2015 of Ofcom spending £10.5m.
The key aim of this letter writing, is that consumers will learn that content is available via authorised channels, and the Copyright Owners will hope that people will then buy it. The most likely outcome is that many may simply decide not to see/hear the content, or move to use services that will hide their online identity. There are some moves by Ofcom to try and encourage the copyright owners to make their content available via legal means, we doubt this will come to much.
The threat of a three strikes and you are out policy, is still lurking in the background, since if the letter writing campaign does not have a significant effect on copyright infringment, there is the possibility of further technical measures which may include internet bandwidth reduction, blocking internet access or temporarily suspending accounts, though this would require sanction from the Secretary of State.