Britain's biggest ISPs are in talks with copyright-holders to find ways to nag broadband subscribers about illegal file-sharing or downloading that may have happened on their connections.
But plans apparently tabled by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) that include maintaining a database of customers whose IP addresses are pinpointed have already been labelled as "unworkable" by Virgin Media.
The Register understands that telcos and music execs are looking at the possibility – once again – of a voluntary letter-writing campaign addressed from ISPs such as TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media to inform their customers where illegal file-sharing activity has been detected.
But the BPI wants to take the process one step further by keeping a record of which subscribers had already received such a missive. Presumably that information could then be used to build a case against repeat offenders.
It's unclear, however, if such a database would comply with current UK data protection law. At present, ISPs say they only maintain records that allow them to provide the agreed services to customers, but nothing more than that.
Virgin Media said:
Music and film companies are speaking to broadband providers about how to address illegal file-sharing but what they’re currently proposing is unworkable.
TalkTalk offered us a slightly more nuanced statement:
We are involved in discussions about measures to address illegal file-sharing and ultimately would like to reach a voluntary agreement. However our customers' rights always come first and we would never agree to anything that could compromise them.
Sky told El Reg:
We continue to work with the industry to find an effective way to tackle the corrosive impact of determined piracy. Part of this involves on-going discussions on the right measures to deliver a fair, effective and lasting model.
BT, meanwhile, was keen to remind everyone it's no fan of the Digital Economy Act. It said:
At the moment, implementing the DEA and blocking illegal sites are the prime instruments for ISPs, but BT is always open to exploring more effective ways of tackling piracy that don’t encroach on the rights of our customers.
The BPI declined to comment on the matter when asked by The Register. But a spokesman at the music industry lobby group had earlier claimed to the Guardian that the BPI had Prime Minister David Cameron's support. Specifically on the 2010 Digital Economy Act, the flack said:
[We] will discuss with government the need for swifter action to reduce online copyright theft, improve consumer awareness of legal services and make the UK the leading digital economy in Europe.
The Graun reported that Cameron will chat to the BPI and other music industry players about online piracy during a breakfast meeting at Number 10 next week.
In June this year, Whitehall confirmed that letters flung at broadband subscribers warning them that stuff has been downloaded illegally on their connections could not be enacted under the DEA for at least two years, which would push notification provisions beyond the 2015 General Election.
"That’s how long we think it will take to implement the mass notification system in the DEA," the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told us at the time. It added: "We’re currently making technical changes to the cost-sharing statutory instrument. These changes will not impact on the overall effect of the legislation." ®