Is a deal close on providers becoming the frontline against piracy?
The Digital Economy Act was one of the last acts from the previous Labour Government and some four years later is still not working in the real world. The BBC has seen a document suggesting that a compromise has been arrived at with the four major broadband providers and the BPI and MPA (trade associations for music and film) such that warning letters over copyright infringement may start to be sent out in 2015.
Some two years ago the estimated date for the first letters was March 2014 and Ofcom has been busy commissioning studies to see how rife piracy is. The Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (Vcap) if it is as described is just going to be a series of letters sent out highlighting that an account was believed to have infringed copyright and to point out the raft of legal streaming and download services.
With no actual penalty, it is very likely that among young adults the letters may become a badge of honour, but there is still scope for the odd family argument when the bill payer opens the letter and tries to find out who it was in the house.
The threat of providers throttling or booting people off a service, i.e. the three strikes and your out type system has not seriously being considered for some time. The system that has been pushed around the discussion tables like a ticking time bomb has usually centred on providers keeping a tally of who gets letters and the copyright holders being able to apply for a court order to identify specific people so they can pursue them through the courts.
Broadband providers have generally tried to avoid becoming the moral guardians, the main reason being that once you start to mix a customer relationship with a policing type role the situation becomes very complex and the probability of increased churn shoots through the roof. In essence we believe that many infringers will simple switch provider after getting a couple of letters, or vanish by billing their next account in their partners name.
The money spent on this scheme would be better spent on ensuring that content is actually available via digital services. The music industry has almost learnt this lesson, but the film industry is still rife with exclusives that make it difficult to find content and in some cases content is not available at all. The game industry is an example of the bad practice that arises with digital downloads, invariably buying a digital copy of a game is more expensive than the physical media. The problem for games consoles is that you do not have competition for stores selling the digital copies.
We would like to see any studio or record label that did use such a scheme to be forced to ensure that the content they are pursuing people about was available at a reasonable price on the three or four main download/streaming services. Additionally any warning letter mechanism MUST include the right of appeal with some form of penalty for incorrectly sent letters.