File Sharers and Digital Copyright Infringement

The Digital Economy Act 2010 has been rushed through by the UK’s Parliament following growing concerns over copyright infringement. Generally, copyright is a sidelined issue compared to patent and trademark infringement. However, this particular issue should be of interest to file sharers, downloaders and uploaders, of copyright works.

BT and TalkTalk, two of the UK’s largest internet providers, have applied for a judicial review over concerns that the Act breaches European rules on privacy.

Under the Act, a copyright owner can now lawfully make a copyright infringement report to an internet service provider (ISP) in the event that the owners suspect infringement of their copyright by a website hosted by the ISP.

The internet service provider must make the website subscriber aware of the report and keep a register of all reports. If requested, the ISP must also provide copyright owners with a list of copyright infringements which contains anonymous details of those who have received a certain number of reports.

With this information, copyright owners will be able take legal action against repeat infringers by pursuing a court order which identifies such offenders and ISPs that do not comply with the Act could receive a fine of up to £250,000.

Ofcom, the UK regulator, has issued a draft code of practice, which includes guidance on how and when to make a report. This code is expected to come into force in early 2011.

To begin with, the code will only cover the larger, fixed-line ISPs, but this cover may be increased, and all ISPs are monitored by Ofcom.

In the event that this part of the Act fails to provide adequate copyright protection, the Secretary of State could force ISPs to take direct action against repeat offenders, such as suspending internet accounts, and courts could be required to grant blocking orders on offending websites. However, the first section of the Act is only in its early stages, and for the second more controversial plan of action to materialise, further reviews and Parliamentary approval would be required.