Regulator Ofcom readies 'three strikes' rule

LONDON — Measures to tackle internet piracy in Blighty finally moved forward on Tuesday as media regulator Ofcom unveiled a “three strikes and you’re sued” system for illegal downloaders.

Under the draft code of the long-delayed Digital Economy Act, U.K. Internet service providers BT, O2, Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk Group and Everything Everywhere, which together account for more than 93% of the retail broadband market, will be required to send warning letters to alleged illegal downloaders of film, TV or music.

The letters will start going out to offenders in March 2014. They will explain what copyright is, where to find legitimate content and offer advice on protecting Internet connections from unauthorized users.

If customers receive three or more letters within a year, their information will be given to copyright owners, such as film or music companies, who can then decide whether to take legal action.

Web users will be able to challenge allegations through an independent appeals body for a cost of £20 ($31.24), which will be refunded if they are successful.

“It is essential that government creates the right conditions for businesses to grow,” said creative industries minister Ed Vaizey. “We must ensure that our creative industries can protect their investment. They have a right to charge people to access their content if they wish, whether in the physical world or on the Internet.

“We are putting in place a system to educate people about copyright to ensure they know what legitimate content is and where to find it. The Digital Economy Act is an important part of protecting our creative industries against unlawful activity.”

The measures, which are expected to be passed by government by the end of the year, are designed to “foster investment and innovation in the U.K.’s creative industries while ensuring Internet users are treated fairly and given help to access lawful content,” said Ofcom consumer group director Claudio Pollack.

The measures have been largely welcomed by the creative sector.

“Like many other countries, we are taking action to turn the tide against the growth in online copyright theft — the single largest threat facing our sector,” said John McVay, chief exec of independent producers org Pact.

Christine Payne, chair of the Creative Coalition Campaign and general secretary of actors’ union Equity, said: “It’s a good day for the U.K.’s two million workers in the creative sector. Two important steps have been taken, following two years of delay, that bring us closer to the Digital Economy Act becoming a reality. These measures are vital to protect the jobs and livelihoods of workers in the creative industries and will help ensure we continue to make high-quality creative content in the U.K.”

John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians Union, said that there is now “a great opportunity through the DEA to educate consumers about how to avoid illegal sites,” while Richard Mollet, chief exec of the Publishers Assn. added that “the sooner we get this law into action, the better.”

The legislation against piracy has been a two-year uphill battle in the U.K.: In March, BT and Talk Talk lost their challenge to force a judicial review of the Digital Economy Act.

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