The anti-piracy elements of the UK’s controversial and much-delayed Digital Economy Act are continuing their slow march to implementation with the publication of OFCOM’s updated Initial Obligations Code today.
As the DEA dictates, ISP accounts linked to peer-to-peer infringements will be subject to receiving a series of notifications warning the bill payer that their activities (or those of people in their household) are unacceptable and in need of change.
The amendments to the Code, which provides a set of standards and procedures by which the anti-P2P (mainly BitTorrent related) elements of the Act will be governed, are very much a mixed bag.
First, and on the plus side for subscribers, is that evidence collection systems of copyright holders will have to fall into line with OFCOM standards before they can send any CIRs (copyright infringement reports) to ISPs.
Additionally, the Code states that copyright owners may only send a CIR if they have ‘gathered evidence in accordance with the approved procedures’ which lead to the ‘reasonable’ belief that the subscriber has infringed a rightsholder’s copyright or that he has allowed someone else to use his account in order to do so.
In the original version of OFCOM’s Code rightsholders were given 10 days in which to send CIRs to ISPs, but in the updated code they are allowed a month following the time of detection – roughly three times longer than before.
For their part, ISPs were previously allowed 10 days from receipt of a CIR to notify a customer that they had been tracked. That period has now been extended to one month. This means that there could be a 60 day gap between an alleged infringement and a subscriber being notified, up from just 20 days.
On the downside for consumer protection is the complete removal of a clause which allowed ISPs to reject rightholder CIRs if they felt in their ‘reasonable opinion’ they were invalid.
Originally it was envisaged that so-called ‘first and ‘second’ strike warnings would go out via email with only the ‘third’ going out by recorded regular mail. That has now been scrapped. All warnings will now go out by regular first class mail, meaning that there will be absolutely no proof that a subscriber has received his third warning.
In addition to conveying the warning itself, CIRs will now have to show the time and date when any infringement took place (as opposed to simply when the evidence was gathered) and also display the number of previous CIRs sent to the subscriber.
OFCOM reports that it has also introduced a requirement that there be a 20 day gap introduced between the date a previous CIR was sent out to a subscriber and evidence being valid for the creation of a subsequent CIR.
Under the previous iteration of the Code, copyright owners would only be able to request a copyright infringement report from ISPs once every three months, and the service provider would be given 5 days to produce it. That three month period has been reduced to a single month and ISPs will have double the time – 10 days – to produce it.
Under the Code subscribers will be able to lodge an appeal against wrongful accusations of infringement. The time to do so has now been clarified as 20 days from the date of receiving a CIR. It will cost an Internet account holder £20.00 to do so.
Finally, the amended Code ends with notes that the UK Government ordered the removal of two elements, both of which would have given a level of protection to subscribers.
‘On the instruction of Government we have removed the ability for subscribers to appeal on any other ground on which they choose to rely,’ the report notes, adding:
‘On the instruction of Government we have removed the requirement for ISPs and copyright owners to provide a statement showing how their processes and systems are compliant with the Data Protection Act.’
This draft Code is now open for a one month consultation period before being presented to parliament later this year. Letters will start going out in 2014…..maybe.
The full report is available here.
In April, the UK High Court ruled that several of the country’s leading ISPs must censor The Pirate Bay since the site and its users breach copyright on a grand scale.
In the weeks that followed Virgin Media, BT, Everything Everywhere, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk, BE and O2 all blocked access to the world’s largest BitTorrent site. Several of the site’s IP-addresses and domain names were made inaccessible.
In a response The Pirate Bay decided to add some new IP-addresses, effectively bypassing the blockades. This worked, until this week when several ISPs updated their blocklists to include the new addresses.
In the UK the procedure to add new domains and IP-addresses is part of a ‘private agreement,’ which apparently allows the providers to quietly add new entries when it’s deemed necessary.
As of this week 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 are no longer accessible on Sky Broadband, Virgin Media and TalkTalk and possibly other providers as well. The new addresses were added quietly by all ISPs without notifying the public.
Whether the updated filter will have any effect has yet to be seen. The Pirate Bay wouldn’t be The Pirate Bay if they hadn’t already lined up a new address, and indeed they have. During the weekend the BitTorrent site will add 188.8.131.52 (not live yet) to keep the whack-a-mole game going.
A Pirate Bay insider told TorrentFreak that they have enough new addresses to keep the providers busy for years to come. However, for them it’s more of a statement than anything else as there are already dozens of proxy sites that allow users to access The Pirate Bay just fine.
The most frequently visited proxy in the UK, operated by the local Pirate party, is already among the top 350 sites in the UK.
The above shows once again that while these blockades may stop some people from accessing a site, the really determined have plenty of options. Also, of those who simply give up on accessing The Pirate Bay, many will simply switch to other torrent sites.
Proof of the ineffectiveness of the censorship attempts was recently highlighted by several Dutch and UK Internet providers, who claimed that BitTorrent traffic didn’t decline after the blockades were implemented.
In other words, blocking The Pirate Bay is futile.
As we’ve concluded before, the entertainment industry might be better off pumping money into business models that give customers what they want, legally. The censorship route doesn’t seem to work out for now.