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ISPs will send out letters but won’t disconnect suspected pirates

UK ISPs have adopted a new anti-piracy measure that will see them issue letters to suspected downloaders, but not threaten customers with disconnection. 

People suspected of illegally downloading music, movies and TV shows will get up to four warning letters from ISPs from 2015 onwards. 

The government said the aim of VACP – the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme – letters is to tell people about the alternatives to stealing, pointing them in direction of “compelling, legal altenatives” along the lines of iTunes, Spotify and Netflix.

Four strikes... and you're free to carry on as you were.
Four strikes… and you’re free to carry on as you were.

The Government will be spending £3.5 million on the campaign which includes sending out letters over the next three years to customers of ISPs that have signed up to the code. 

The UK’s biggest ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk – have agreed to VCAP and others are expected to sign up later. 

VCAP is the result of years of wrangling between the Government, ISPs and media bodies including the Motion Picture Association (MPI) and the British Phonographic Institute (BPI). 

It’s a much watered-down version of the original ‘three strikes’ approach put forward in 2012, which would have seen persistent downloaders disconnected after receiving three warning letters. Three strikes was mooted following the DEA (Digital Economy Act) passed by the previous Labour administration. 

While the letters aren’t backed with the threat of disconnection users who ignore them could potentially see themselves charged with civil offences if caught by the Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit. 

The Government says that the letters are one part of a wider campaign to curb piracy in the UK. 

Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Copyright is one of the foundations the UK economy is built on. Our creative industries contribute £8 million to the UK economy every hour and we must ensure these businesses can protect their investments. 

“The alert programme shows industry working together to develop solutions to this threat to our creative industries.” 

In the meantime, rights holders will continue to step up their campaign of asking ISPs via court orders to block access to file sharing networks such as The Pirate Bay and EZTV

While in many cases site blocks can be circumvented by use of proxies, site blocking has arguably had some effect. UK-based torrent site TheBox.bz shuttered itself before any legal action was applied and UK ISPs are being asked to cast increasingly bigger dragnets

How a £3.5 million campaign will stop the likes of The Pirate Bay, which plans to launch a virtually undetectable Bitcoin-powered shadow network, is another matter. 

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