In a campaign launching today, the UK’s four largest internet providers will begin sending educational letters to customers who download copyright content using peer-to-peer file-sharing.

In a collaboration between ISPs, copyright owners and the government, internet users will be sent a warning letter if their broadband is used to download copyright content. The tone of the letters will be educational, informing users that their broadband has been used in this way and pointing them to sites where they can access content legally.

The campaign has been in the pipeline for a number of years. Back in 2014, the government announced the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), saying it would go live by the end of that year. At that stage, it was envisaged that repeat infringers would receive increasingly strongly-worded letters. If a subscriber received three letters within the space of a year, anonymous details would be added to a ‘copyright infringement list’, which rights holders could access and then seek a court order obliging the ISPs to disclose the identity of suspected infringers.

Even prior to that, something similar was envisaged in the Digital Economy Act 2010 (DEA). In addition to a programme of notifications, the DEA envisaged internet users’ connections being limited or cut off if they were repeatedly used to download infringing content, and details of infringers being passed to rights holders in order to enable them to bring proceedings against repeat infringers. These provisions of the DEA proved controversial and have never come into effect. However, rights holders may be disappointed that the government is not taking more steps to protect their rights and reduce online piracy. The alert programme launching today is an educational programme which may well raise awareness among casual infringers, but it lacks real teeth.