Rights holders and the UK government are asking UK ISPs to voluntarily compile lists of IP addresses of copyright offenders for lawsuits and potentially even disconnection. Under the Digital Economy Act, which passed in 2011, the UK technically already has a 'three strikes and you’re disconnected' law
on illegal filesharing, a troubling law which all involved have cleverly gotten around by doing close to nothing to enforce it.
Clearly, however, the British Phonographic Association (BPI), which represents UK record labels and is negotiating with ISPs, has got wise to that strategy.
If the BPI’s new plans work out, the biggest UK ISPs - BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Sky – will send letters to households associated with an IP, informing them that the address has been associated with illegal filesharing and warning them that such activity is illegal. Rights holders hope it'll be a deterrent for now and, once it’s in place, give them more leverage to enforce anti-file sharing laws.
It's a strange move for rights holders, going back to the negotiating table after having won in court. But it's even stranger for them to crow about it. This story came out because the BPI will discuss the issue with the Prime Minister at a breakfast on September 12th. Yet on repeated occasions over the past few years, UK ISPs have shown themselves to be indifferent
, if not obstructive, to legal action bought by rights holders.
In 2010, for example, the Ministry of Sound planned to send warning letters to 25,000 BT customers whom the record label suspected of having shared its back catalogue online. While the case languished in court, however, BT deleted the details "in accordance with its data retention policy", killing the label’s action.
ISPs have long resisted voluntarily dealing with filesharers, and in particular shouldering the cost of doing so, and many of them expressed grave concerns with the Digital Economy Act. Even as the BPI announce their proposals, the ISPs they’re negotiating with seem less than keen.
"Our customers' rights always come first and we would never agree to anything that could compromise them," TalkTalk said in a statement. It's not just customer loyalty and cost that are dissuading broadband providers, however.
Some believe that a database of personal details linked to illegal files could be illegal under the Data Protection Act, which regulates how and how much companies can hold on to personal data.
"Music and film companies are speaking to broadband providers about how to address illegal file-sharing but what they're currently proposing is unworkable," a Virgin Media spokesperson said.