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Since the early days of the DEA we (and the rest of the industry) have debated the proposed and highly controversial methods of dealing with persistent copyright infringers, or ‘pirates’ as they’ve been referred to. The DEA planned to track persistent offenders by IP address (first mistake) and send them a series of warning letters advising them to cease their activities or potentially face disconnection of their service and possibly legal action from the copyright holders.

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

However, with changes in Government, a number of judicial reviews and ongoing industry argument, this part of the DEA hit delay after delay and as of yet still hasn’t been implemented – until now that is…

Ok, so it’s not actually the DEA that’s coming into force. It’s a voluntary agreement (VCAP – Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme) between the largest ISPs and several members of the entertainment industry which will see ‘persistent infringers’ receive a series of warning letters advising them to stop. They hope to have the system up and running before the end of the year.

This new voluntary programme does however appear to have a lot less bite than the DEA. Andrew Orlowski from The Register said “The BBC, which has seen a draft of the agreement, reports that VCAP doesn’t specify any penalties for infringers. So the hardcore may be inclined to ignore the letters, and take their chances.” He went on to state “VCAP without enforcement is simply an “educational” letter-writing campaign, with copyright industries footing the bill.”

It does seem somewhat meaningless to continually send letters to ‘advise’ perpetrators to stop their actions without any enforceable penalties. However as we have stated in the past, the previous DEA plans to identify offenders by IP address were fundamentally flawed and therefore any severe punishments (such as disconnection of service) would be unfair and disproportionate to the offence.

This new scheme follows a recent threat from the new Intellectual Property Advisor, Mike Weatherley, of fresh legislation against ISPs that knowingly facilitate illegal downloading practices. The not so impartial advisor, who has known links to the entertainment industry, went on to explain “Government must back up industry by putting the necessary enforcement mechanisms into place. This would include holding Internet Service Providers responsible if they knowingly facilitate illegal downloading practices and do not take steps to stop this form of piracy.

So, it looks like VCAP is likely to be the first step on the ladder. If ISPs play along nicely and send the required letters as agreed we may avoid future legislation but, if not, the threats of DEA style enforcement are already being declared. Will VCAP make any difference to the ‘offenders’? Probably not. We doubt that many ‘pirates’ will be scared off by a few threatening letters, especially if there are no further penalties. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

Have your say!

How do you think we should tackle the ongoing issue of copyright infringement? Do you think ISPs are doing enough to help tackle the issue? Do you think the responsibility lies with the rights holders? Will the VCAP work? Let us know your thoughts and share your experiences by leaving us a comment below.

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