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Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold

Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing

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The Ministry of Fun says it isn't going to put the Digital Economy Act's anti-piracy measures into use – and will instead leave it to the creative industry's newer, kinder and gentler awareness campaign, Creative Content UK, to school digital pirates.

Creative Content UK (CCUK) works by emailing copyright-infringing downloaders little notes to persuade them to use legit sources for music, TV and so forth. The sanctions in the DEA start at written warnings sent to homes, and the Culture Secretary can later ask for tough punishments for pirates.

CCUK – formerly known as the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme – was devised as a route around the bureaucratic inertia that has bogged down the Digital Economy Act for four years. The act was passed in 2010, but the first stage of its anti-piracy timetable still hasn't been reached.

Creative Content UK resembles the US approach of an agreement between the creative industries and ISPs to notify people that they're infringing copyright – typically, that's downloading stuff they shouldn't. The British campaign differs in that there are no sanctions for persistent scofflaws.

CCUK was devised by copyright groups, including the BPI, who are frustrated by the lack of action in getting the infringement provisions into law. On Saturday, the project was formally announced - you can read more here. It's positioned more as an educational scheme than as a threat.

In a statement, the Ministry of Fun (better known as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) told us today:

The government has welcomed industry’s development of the Creative Content UK alert programme to raise awareness of copyright and point people toward legal ways to access content. The mass notification system in the Digital Economy Act would largely duplicate the industry scheme, so we do not currently need to bring in its provisions, but we will keep this under review.

DCMS confirmed that for the DEA to inch forward, two enabling pieces of legislation in the form of Statutory Instruments (SIs) would need to be passed - a costs order and a further SI enshrining the Obligations Code. But it isn't doing any work on either of these. Once these were passed, it would need approval from Europe to conform with privacy and liability rules, but all that's rather a moot point now.

The original timetable envisaged that over a 12-month period, Ofcom would monitor file-sharing and infringers would receive letters. Then, if the overall level infringement hadn't fallen, the Secretary of State could ask Ofcom to draw up "technical counter measures" against repeat offenders, which Parliament would have to approve.

Broadband subscribers slapped with these could appeal to a special appeals body - possibly pleading in mitigation that 24,000 downloaded karaoke tunes were a remedy to "low self esteem" (as one infringer did).

So you can see that while DCMS says the DEA "largely duplicates" CCUK, two things aren't duplicated at all: the monitoring, and the possibility of sanctions against persistent infringers.

A source involved in the programme told us: "We're optimistic that it can be effective. It's the first time ISPs and rights holders are working together, and that's never happened before."

The measures were held up for 18 months as the result of a judicial review by BT and Talk Talk. But Ofcom appears to go to bat for the pirates, discovering a "slower than first gear" for getting proceedings underway. The costs SI was withdrawn and never re-submitted.

If it proves ineffective in lowering casual infringement, the British government has promised to pull the DEA back off the shelf, we understand. For now, the DEA is as good as dead, but then it has been for ages. It's a victory for civil servants and the unelected regulator - and also the most pampered group in the UK: blokes in overcoats. ®

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