After years of waiting, the Government’s long-held plan to force major broadband ISPs into issuing warning letters / emails to customers, specifically those suspected of having engaged in online copyright infringement (Internet piracy), looks set to get underway from early 2017.

The controversial Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP), which forms part of the wider Creative Content UK initiative, is “voluntarily” supported by BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky Broadband. After a long period of squabbling the scheme was officially set in motion during 2014 (here), although the education part of the campaign didn’t begin until July 2015...

Since then a big question mark has continued to hover over the VCAP system (aka – subscriber alerts programme), which aims to “send millions of educational notices” to those detected by copyright owners as infringing via “unlawful” Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File-Sharing (e.g. BitTorrent) networks (these expose your IP address to the public).

Unlike the bullying letters sent by questionable copyright protection firms (aka – “speculative invoicing“), the “alerts” issued by this new system will NOT contain any threats or demands for money and should only act as a tool for educating customers about the legal alternatives (e.g. Netflix). The idea is to discourage future infringement, as opposed to punishment.

A spokesperson from CCUK’s “Get it Right From a Genuine Site” campaign has now informed TorrentFreak that the system is finally expected to go live during the first few months of 2017.

A Spokesperson for CCUK said:

“Educational emails will help account owners and others who use their accounts to do the right thing and get their content from legitimate sources. As well as providing links to help the customer find legal sources of content in future, the email will direct the user to further resources to answer any questions they may have about how the information was obtained and how to make sure their account is not used to infringe content again.”

The new solution stemmed from 2010’s rushed introduction of the original Digital Economy Act (not to be confused with the new 2017 act), which attempted to force an array of controversial anti-piracy enforcement measures upon ISPs (e.g. website blocking and warning letters with a threat of disconnection for repeat offenders etc.).

In the end many of the DEAct’s measures were obstructed by issues of cost, legal squabbles (e.g. BT and TalkTalk’s Judicial Review), political disagreements and concerns over the reliability of IP address based evidence (even accurate data only identifies the bill payer and on a shared network they might not be the perpetrator).

The CCUK recognises that many people might not realize their account has been used to share such files (e.g. children using the connection for unlawful purposes) and that it is very difficult to legally prove that the account owner is the guilty party (previous court cases have all failed), thus the voluntary alerts system was born instead.

The idea is that if related subscribers know they can be identified then it’s hoped that most should cease their activity, although equally some may make themselves less detectable (VPN, Proxy servers etc.). It’s also possible that the alerts could end up causing frustration for consumers who end up being incorrectly targeted (back to the tricky issue of using unreliable IP addresses as evidence).

Mind you P2P is not the threat that it once was, having been battered by years of mass website blocking and the emergence of more effective legal alternatives. Meanwhile many others now know how to mask their IP address online.