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How government will save you from P2P deviance

It's stealing, you know...

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Thousands - or to be more precise, six thousands - of lucky alleged infringers a week are to be informed of the error of their ways, according to the terms of the deal struck this week between the British government and six major ISPs. They will in the first instance be "informed when their accounts are being used unlawfully to share copyright material and pointed towards legal alternatives."

And in the second instance? That is yet to be determined, and the ISPs and rights holders signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the government have been sent off for four months to figure out the 'or what?' bit of the deal.

In the meantime those letters will be cranking out. The targets will be identified by "music rights holders" who will pass the data on to the ISPs, who will then run the system as a trial for three months. So that's about 70,000 letters in total, the number of suspects being dependent on whether they're going to bombard the same people with information regarding the unlawful nature of some of their account's activities, or whether they go for a 'one per deviant' rule.

The evidence of this trial period will be analysed, and depending on what that tells them they'll agree with Offcom an escalation in numbers, a widening of content coverage (presumably to video), and "a process for agreeing a cap." That is, not a cap in itself, but a process for agreeing one. This (we speculate) might take into account factors such as cost of stamps to ISPs, level of music business profitability, percentage of deviants in total user base, ratio of ridicule experienced by music industry to ridicule experienced by ISPs, and the price of sardines. Or something.

The two aspects of the letter - drawing the user's attention to the infringement and pointing them at legal alternatives - are likely to be important in determining the success of the trial. Some users - possibly, as Feargal Sharkey thinks, most - are likely to be scared off when they learn that somebody's watching them, but adequate legal alternatives (which the ISPs say they're going to set up) will have to exist in order for the customers to be directed to them, and to carry on using them.

It seems doubtful that this will be the case in four months time, when the working group is due to report back back with proposals to deal with the hard cases. Despite fevered reporting in some newspapers, 'three strikes' doesn't figure in this and the measures being considered are light on savagery. "The group will... look at solutions including technical measures such as traffic management or filtering, and marking of content to facilitate its identification. In addition, rights holders will consider prosecuting particularly serious infringers in appropriate cases."

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