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UK's pirate-nagging VCAP scheme WON'T have penalties – report

Can you please stop. No? OK then, we'll have to send you another letter

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The much-anticipated voluntary UK scheme to reduce online copyright infringement, VCAP, has not yet been signed according to sources – but parties still hope it will be implemented this year.

The Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP) is modelled on the US program of "graduated response" – a voluntary agreement between copyright industries and the biggest ISPs to write letters to persistent infringers.

It’s partly similar to the one detailed in the Digital Economy Act of 2010, which is years behind schedule, but with an important difference. The response doesn’t graduate to anything particularly frightening. Persistent freetards would receive letters and then… well, that’s yet to be announced.

In a statement issued by the Motion Picture Association today explained: “Content creators and ISPs, with the support of government, have been exploring the possibility of developing an awareness programme that will support the continuing growth of legal content services, reduce copyright infringement and create the best possible customer experience online.”

The legitimate market for digital content was being “prevented from reaching its full potential” by mass piracy. The BPI, which is engaged in the discussions, declined to comment on specifics.

The BBC, which has seen a draft of the agreement, reports that VCAP doesn’t specify any penalties for infringers. So the hardcore may be inclined to ignore the letters, and take their chances.

(Copyright infringement has always been sufficient grounds to get your service terminated by an ISP as it is just another form of network abuse. But ISPs have been loath to enforce the terms, fearing that this would open a Pandora’s box of complaints from copyright industries, thus increasing cost and uncertainty to their business.)

Ironically, a voluntary agreement between ISPs and copyright industries was exactly what was envisaged when the two sides signed the "Memorandum of Understanding" in 2007, but a breakdown of trust and effective lobbying saw piracy measures formalised into law in the dying days of the Brown administration.

In February, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said the Government was still hoping to implement the DEA, but said VCAP was a step forward:

“We welcome the industry initiative, not only because we hope it may be up and running before the end of the year, but because it requires a partnership between both sides of the debate, and because it brings important flexibility to make it possible to adapt. I suspect that it will be easier to adapt the system as technology changes,” he told Parliament.

We recently gave you a round-up of infringement policies from around the world. These range from voluntary schemes with sanctions, such as in the US and Ireland - to the draconian “sudden death” Italian policy implemented by its media regulator AGCOM.

No doubt we'll hear concerns about the legality of a voluntary agreement. But with copyright activists having fought a trench war against the DEA, where these concerns are exhaustively addressed, and having opposed any copyright enforcement measure ever proposed, politicians are less inclined to be sympathetic to these kind of concerns. There's only so many times you can say the sky is falling.

Particularly if there’s no sting in the tail – VCAP without enforcement is simply an "educational" letter-writing campaign, with copyright industries footing the bill. ®

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