Sky, TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media will send customers who download illegally distributed files over their network "education letters", the latest initiative in the UK crackdown on online piracy.
The network providers will tell users who have used file-sharing sites or downloaded illegal content that they may have accessed copyright infringed content, and advises the user to find “legitimate sources of entertainment content” but will not threaten any customers with punitive action.
The announcement is the denouement of a decade-long discussion between ISPs and the creative industries in the UK.
BPI UK Music and Music Publisher's Association previously requested access to a database of known illegal downloaders recorded by BT, Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin Media. The industry bodies also requested further legal action against individuals as well as letters threatening criminal punishment to be sent by the providers.
However, the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), a draft of which was leaked in May, has been criticised for a softly-softly approach.
Lee Wade, CEO at Exponential-e said: “VCAP will be a damp squib. Without the power to enforce change, copyright warning letters will find themselves in the junk pile."
Wade added that businesses may receive letters from their ISPs due to employees' downloading habits.
“Today’s news is a precursor of what’s to come because it’s not the little guys that VCAP is after. Corporate networks are the ones that need to prepare themselves as it’s at work where most people download their movies and music because the network performance is faster.
“They think they are anonymous. And most of the time that’s true, as the majority of businesses have no idea what happens on their network. In time, this is where VCAP will make the big bucks as the liability lies with the owner of the network. Not the employee."
File-sharing sites are a grey area. Torrent sites like the Pirate Bay, which is blocked by UK ISPS, allows users to search for a torrent file that is seeded by users from across the world. Although providing films for users to download is illegal, offering a search engine to seed meta-data, which is then pieced together by software owned by a user, is not.
But City of London Police's Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (Pipcu) is hot on the heels of file-sharing sites. It claims to have closed several smaller sports sites including nuthob.eu and boxingguru.co.uk.
It also stated that it had created a database of file-sharing websites and published it to advertising businesses in a bid to cut off offending sites' revenue.
It managed to close down file-sharing website FileCrop in May.
But on the same day, Torrentz.eu, the popular site where users can search for seeded films, was back online following a suspension from Pipcu after confirming its legal status.
The article was amended on the 25 July to clarify the phrase "Sky, TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media will send customers who download illegal files over their network". File-sharing is not illegal, but the source file is an infrigement of a film or audio producers copyright.