UK scraps its 'three strikes' piracy plan, brings in softer guidelines

In a signal that heavy-handed anti-piracy tactics--and placing the burden of enforcement on ISPs--isn't working well, the United Kingdom is revising its "three strikes" plan which would boot illegal file sharers off their ISP after three warnings.  Instead it will implement in 2015 a less rigid Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), which sends file sharers four warning letters … and does nothing else.

The new guidelines were developed as a result of talks between ISPs, politicians, and the music and movie industries, according to a VG 24/7 report.

Cost and complexity were likely big players in the demise of the three strikes idea. According to a 2009 DSL Reports story, implementing the measures would have cost UK taxpayers around $800 million. Further, in addition to cutting chronic file sharers' Internet connections, ISPs would have had to keep a database of those file sharers, raising privacy issues and the spectre of more heavy-handed legal actions possibly taken against those on the list.

ISPs that detect illegal file sharing, under VCAP, would send up to four letters to those violating copyright law, explaining that their actions are illegal. Part of the measure is to alert subscribers, such as parents, that such activity is occurring on their accounts.

However, after the fourth letter is sent, no additional action will be taken to stop file sharing.

Major ISPs including BT (NYSE: BT), Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and Virgin Media have pledged their support along with Britain's music and film industries.

A new piracy awareness campaign tied to VCAP, Creative Content UK, was announced this weekend. Before spring 2015, the press release said, "a major multi-media education awareness campaign, led by content creators and part-funded by government," will launch "that aims to create wider appreciation of the value and benefits of entertainment content and copyright." The campaign will also try to point users toward legitimate sources of content, such as Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX).

The letter component of VCAP, or "subscriber alerts programme," is the second part of the campaign.

The UK government has pledged £3.5 million ($5.97 million) to fund the awareness campaign.

In the United States, most ISPs voluntarily adopted a less rigorous "six strikes" plan several years ago. File sharers receive emailed or browser-based warnings that copyrighted material was illegally downloaded. It isn't known how many, if any, persistent file sharers have been blocked by their ISPs. However, the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) reported in May that 772,000 Internet users have been sent some 1.3 million notices, and that over 60,000 of those users "received some kind of penalty from their ISP," according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

EU laws regarding file sharing vary and can be draconian: In 2013, a 9-year-old Finnish girl's laptop was seized after her father refused to pay a €600 ($800) fine for visiting blocked file-sharing site The Pirate Bay while searching for a popular song. Meantime, Switzerland refuses to track BitTorrent users, citing privacy issues--a stance that put the country on a "watch list" belonging to the U.S. Congress' International Creativity and Theft-Prevention Caucus.

For more:
- DSL Reports has this story
- VG 24/7 has this story
- EFF has this story
- see this release

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