A new UK-wide anti-piracy agenda has come under fire after it was revealed that the 'Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme' will result in warnings for those illegally downloading content, but no actual sanctions.
The scheme is being promoted by Creative Content UK, a coalition of the content producers including the BPI and MPA, as well as various ISPs, and is supported by the UK government. Initially, the campaign will focus on a programme of education, with media campaigns highlighting the risks of downloading illegal content and the benefits of obtaining it officially. This stage will launch in early 2015, fronted by the content producers and partly funded by public funds.
The second stage puts the onus more heavily on the country's ISPs. Those internet providers participating in the scheme, which include Sky, Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk, will be issuing warning letters to those customers who are believed to obtaining content illegally. Those warnings, it seems, will be largely intended to make users aware of what they're doing, rather than threatening any legal action. reports indicate that a maximum of four of these letters will be issued per household, per year. No other action will be taken.
A press release from Virgin Media on the new scheme offers a 'customer friendly' and frankly optimistic stance on the problem.
"As part of this commitment," it reads, "we will alert our customers if unlawful file-sharing appears to have taken place on their broadband connection. Any alert will clearly recognise the account holder may not have engaged in copyright infringement themselves and we will be informative in tone, offering advice on where to find legitimate sources of entertainment content.
"We believe people will ultimately pay if they can get what they want, how they want, at a price that's fair to them. We have partnered with Spotify, encouraging customers to use the country's largest streaming music service, we have brought Netflix onto its first pay-TV platform and we offer an unbeatable choice of On Demand movies and TV shows. By embracing digital, the creative industries can realise significant benefits, reaching millions of people with new and innovative services."
The scheme was publicly launched at Spotify's London offices over the weekend, with Business Secretary Vince Cable and Culture Secretary Sajid Javid pledging £3.5m of public funds in support.
"Any alert will clearly recognise the account holder may not have engaged in copyright infringement themselves and we will be informative in tone, offering advice on where to find legitimate sources of entertainment content"
"Copyright is one of the foundations the UK economy is built on," said Javid. "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. It will play a central role in raising awareness of copyright and pointing people toward legal ways to access content, and I welcome this effort."
"The creative industries in the UK are one of our brilliant global success stories. Yet too often that content is open to abuse by some who don't play by the rules," added Cable.
"That is why we are working with industry to ensure that intellectual property rights are understood and respected. Education is at the heart of this drive so people understand that piracy isn't a victimless crime - but actually causes business to fail, harms the industry and costs jobs."
Other aspects of the programme include the continued blocking of major piracy hubs such as torrent sites, restriction of ad revenues to those sites and more education. It's not known whether the new approach affects any existing laws.
It's not the first time that the UK's creative industries have attempted to attack the problem head-on. In 2010 the proposed Digital Economy Act was retired after a lengthy process of protests and legal wrangling, with considerable opposition coming from some major ISPs.
Although the UK's games industry has started to command more government attention of late, there is precious little mention of it in the official material surrounding the news, with a far bigger focus on music, TV and film.