British ISPs Agree to Massive Letter-Writing Campaign

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British ISPs have collectively agreed to issue thousands of letters to infringing subscribers, according to a voluntary deal announced this morning.

During a meeting with journalists, major label group BPI heralded a “groundbreaking agreement” that would “significantly reduce illegal file-sharing” by drawing greater awareness to the issue of piracy.  The agreement initially covers a three-month period, and it remains unclear exactly how many letters will be issued.

Also involved is the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), and media regulator and competition authority Ofcom, part of a larger governmental role that first emerged in June.  A total of six ISPs – BT, BSkyB, Virgin Media, Orange, Tiscali and Carphone Warehouse – have signed onto the memorandum of understanding (MoU).

Of those, Virgin Media has already been sending letters to subscribers.  That campaign, a joint effort with the BPI, quickly grabbed negative attention after suspected subscribers were threatened with disconnection.

That caused some backtracking by Virgin, though the BPI pointed to a plan that actually includes account termination for repeat offenders.  “The possibility of account suspension, and the ultimate sanction of contract cancellation, would follow for those customers who choose to continue file-sharing illegally, despite receiving that advice,” a representative affirmed.

That sounds like three-strikes, though ISPs only appear committed to the informational and educational aspects of the plan, according to continued statements.   The result is an agreement that lacks bite, though the groups could forge policies for dealing with the most egregious offenders.

Beyond letter-writing, the BPI also pointed to a broader commitment to combat internet piracy and construct more legal alternatives, though specifics were not detailed.  “This MoU represents a significant step forward, in that all ISPs now recognize their responsibility to help deal with illegal file-sharing,” said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor.

What else? In the call, the BPI denied that any discussions or plans surround a broader, ISP-level charge for access to recordings.  That has been floated as a possibility within broader industry discussions, though the BPI remains against that plan.