Copyright owners want more data on infringers, internet providers don’t agree

Copyright owners’ desire to record user browsing data to aid prosecutions of copyright infringers has led to a stalemate that threatens to derail attempts to avoid the implementation of the Digital Economy Act.

Notes from a meeting between communications minister Ed Vaizey and TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding in October reveal an “impasse” has been reached over copyright owners’ apparent desire to use browsing data to build evidence for prosecutions.

Currently Lord Younger, the minister for intellectual property, is looking into a recommendation from MPs to extend the maximum penalty for “serious” online copyright infringement  to ten years’ imprisonment, which would be in line with sentences for similar offences in the physical world.

The dispute over recording data to enable prosecutions is cited as the “major hurdle” to implementing a “Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme” (VCAP) that aims to ward off the enforcement of punitive measures laid out in the Digital Economy Act.

It is understood internet service providers (ISPs) are pushing for a compromise, but as yet no resolution has been reached.

John Whittingdale MP, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, warned the Government could step in and take action if no voluntary agreement is struck.

During a parliamentary debate on 13 February, he said: “VCAP would involve an agreement between the rights owners and the ISPs that there would be a system through which letters were issued to those identified as illegally downloading.

“If that can be done voluntarily, that is preferable, and we should get on with that as quickly as possible. We prefer a voluntary system, but if agreement cannot be reached, the Government need to stand by to bring into force the provisions of the Digital Economy Act 2010, and to use legislation.”

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said VCAP would involve “millions” of notifications that would be “educational and “not threatening” in nature.

Notes obtained via a Freedom of Information relating to the October meeting between Vaizey and Harding reveal Vaizey agreed the recording of browsing data to bring about copyright prosecutions was not “necessary”.

Vaizey responded to Whittingdale’s comments during the parliamentary debate by claiming the Government hopes VCAP “may be up and running before the end of the year”.

He added: “It has been difficult to implement the details of the Digital Economy Act 2010. There are significant technical obstacles, including the fact that we were being sued by BT and TalkTalk for at least two years from the time when it was passed.”

Vaizey conceded during the debate that he wanted Google to “do more” to help combat copyright infringement and claims “we will continue to press it to do so”.

The music and film industry have a long-running gripe with Google for its perceived inaction over sites that infringe copyright.

Speaking to the DCMS Select Committee in December 2012, UK Music chairman Andy Heath said: “The business community always says to me, ‘Yes, but Government hates copyright [and] are going to bring in all sorts of laws that are going to make it easier for Google to steal your music that they already steal, so why should we invest?’ and that is a story I get every month of every year.”

A UK Music spokesman claimed that the lobbying group has not been directly involved with the VCAP discussions and TalkTalk stressed it would never take any voluntary action that would compromise its customers’ right to privacy.

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