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Entertainment industry bodies strike deal with UK internet service providers

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A leaked document seen by the BBC has revealed that after four years of negotiation, the entertainment industry bodies have come to an agreement with internet service providers (ISPs) as to how they should tackle illegal downloading of copyrighted material from the internet.

The BPI (British Phonographic Industry) who represent the British music industry and the MPA (Motion Picture Association) which covers the film have been in discussion with BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media following the enactment of the Digital Economy Act in 2010.

Amongst the measures provided for in the Digital Economy Act was the option to suspend accounts of individuals who repeatedly download material illegally. This was met with opposition from ISPs who argued that ISPs should not be asked to police their users and internet rights groups who believe that internet access should be considered a human right.

The outcome of the negotiations between the entertainment bodies and the ISPs are set out in a draft document known as the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (Vcap) which will be finalised pending approval from the Information Commissioner's Office regarding the collection of data about which customers receive alerts.

The agreed approach is for ISPs to send letters to customers whom they believe to be downloading material illegally which will be educational in nature and promote an 'increase in awareness' of legal downloading services. The letters or emails will be known as an "alerts". A maximum of four alerts will be sent to any individual customer account with the language escalating in severity but without any threat or mention of consequences. However, following the fourth alert, no further action will be taken by the ISP.

Originally, the BPI and MPA had suggested that the letters should set out possible punitive measures and they wanted access to a database of known illegal downloaders which would open the doors to legal action against the individuals. However it appears that the resultant measures are somewhat weaker than anticipated by the entertainment bodies as they contains neither of these provisions.

A record of which accounts have received letters will be kept by the ISP for one year. Rights holders will receive a monthly breakdown of how many alert letters have been issued but the identity of customers involved will remain confidential to the ISP concerned.

Between the four ISPs involved at this stage, a cap of 2.5 million alerts can be sent out, which may be adjusted in the event that other ISPs join the agreement.

It is anticipated that the alert system will operate initially for 3 years with regular reviews of its effectiveness: the agreement further states that if it proves to be ineffective, rights holders may call for the "rapid implementation" of the stronger measures outlined in the Digital Economy Act.

The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues. 

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