UK internet users deemed guilty of infringing copyright through illegal downloads are to be blacklisted as part of a draft code of practice drawn up by telecoms regulator Ofcom.
The proposed code of practice, which implements legislative measures aimed at reducing online copyright infringement, was published Friday by Ofcom, as part of its new duties under the Digital Economy Act 2010.
The Act requires that the code of practice is implemented no later than eight months from Royal Assent, including approval from the European Commission.
Subject to consultation and approval, Ofcom expects the code to come into force in early 2011.
The code of practice
The draft code sets out how and when internet service providers (ISPs) covered by the code will send notifications to their subscribers to inform them of allegations that their accounts have been used for copyright infringement.
In passing the Act, Parliament’s intention was that Ofcom should apply the obligations in a proportionate way, with the code initially covering only the larger fixed-line ISPs, but with the clear message that, should levels of copyright infringement on other networks, including mobile, increase, then those ISPs will similarly be required to comply with the obligations.
Ofcom proposes, therefore, that fixed-line ISPs with more than 400,000 subscribers will be covered initially.
This would mean that the seven largest ISPs – BT, Talk Talk, Virgin Media, Sky, Orange, O2 and Post Office – will be covered by the code from the outset.
Ofcom proposes to regularly review evidence of online copyright infringement across all service providers and to extend the scope of the code if appropriate.
Online copyright infringers
The code also sets out the threshold for including subscribers on a copyright infringers list which must be compiled by ISPs.
ISPs will have to record the number of notifications sent to their subscribers and maintain an anonymised list of alleged serial copyright infringers.
Copyright holders can then request information on this list and pursue a court order to identify serial infringers and take legal action against them.
Ofcom is proposing a three-stage notification process for ISPs to inform subscribers of copyright infringements and proposes that subscribers which have received three notifications within a year may be included in a list requested by a copyright owner.
Ofcom’s approach is guided by the need to protect the interests of consumers and citizens. Ofcom will establish an independent, robust subscriber appeals mechanism for consumers who believe they have received incorrect notifications, arrangements for enforcement and dealing with industry disputes, as well as sharing the costs arising from the code.
The code of practice forms part of a wider set of industry activity to tackle online copyright infringement, including consumer education, the promotion of lawful alternative services and targeted legal action against serious infringers.
Ofcom says it intends to monitor how these develop and will report regularly to Government on both the effectiveness of the code and on the additional measures.
By John Kennedy