After almost four years of discussion, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and entertainment industry bodies have reached an agreement over the contents of the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP). ISPs are to issue notifications to internet users on the basis of evidence of alleged online copyright infringement gathered by copyright owner groups. This article provides a brief outline of the VCAP and explains what internet users need to be aware of.

Background

With the continuing delays to the implementation of the Digital Economy Act, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport suggested that a voluntary agreement be put in place after complaints were made from the entertainment industry that the measures were taking too long to be enforced.

The leading ISPs have reached an agreement with the film and music industry (Motion Picture Association and BPI respectively) to send letters or “alerts” to customers who are infringing copyright by downloading music, films or other material.

How the VCAP will work

Proposals previously released by Ofcom suggested that the VCAP would affect ISPs with more than 400,000 broadband enabled fixed-line users (this would capture BT, Sky,  Everything Everywhere, O2, TalkTalk Group and Virgin Media).

It is likely that rights holders will identify the IP addresses of the locations that they believe to be downloading files illegally. A “Copyright Infringement Report” will be sent to the ISP involved. The ISP will then match that report to a customer account it knows was connected to the internet from that IP address at the time of the download and a letter will be sent to that customer.

The “alert”

The first letters are expected to be issued in 2015. Those who should expect to receive such letters are people using sites other than iTunes, Spotify and other legal subscription services to download and stream music, films and other material.

The letters will not be directed at specific individuals (a single IP address could be used by several people).

Implications

The letters are designed to discourage infringement but will not carry legal sanctions. Only four letters can be sent to the address associated with a particular IP address. Each alert will use language escalating in severity but following the fourth and final alert, no further action can be taken.

However, the VCAP will not prevent copyright owners from pursuing legal action against individuals for copyright infringement.

The government has also warned that if the VCAP fails to reduce illegal downloading significantly then it will implement stricter measures.