Internet piracy appeal fee challenged by Consumer Focus
Suspected internet pirates will have 20 working days to appeal against allegations of copyright infringement and must pay £20 to do so, according to revised plans to enforce the UK's Digital Economy Act.
The details are contained in secondary legislation presented to Parliament and a draft code published by Ofcom.
The telecoms regulator said it expected the scheme to begin in 2014.
Campaigners oppose the fee saying users should be innocent until proven guilty.
The Creative Industries Minister, Ed Vaizey, said: "We must ensure our creative industries can protect their investment.
"They have the right to charge people to access their content if they wish, whether in the physical world or on the internet."Three letters
Under the plans users suspected of accessing or uploading illegally copied files will be sent letters from their internet service provider (ISP), delivered at least one month apart, informing them they are suspected of copyright infringement.
The messages will also contain information about where to find licensed material online.
Copyright owners can request details about all the accusations made against any account-holder who receives three or more letters within a 12-month period, but the user's name will not be revealed at this stage.
Expect plenty more arguments before we finally discover whether the Digital Economy Act really has the potential to be as good for the creative industries or as bad for the consumer as the different lobbies claim.
Meanwhile you could argue that the whole enterprise already looks obsolete.
The copyright holders have found that existing laws enable them to take action against piracy sites, with court rulings forcing ISPs to block access to Newzbin and the Pirate Bay.
Rights holders wishing to chase a suspected pirate must seek a court order requiring the ISP to hand over the details.
Ofcom said this additional step was designed to encourage efforts to be focused "on the most persistent alleged infringers".Appeal fees
Accused users who wish to appeal against the claims outlined in any letter must pay £20 to do so, but the revised code says only grounds specified in the act will be considered.
Campaign group Consumer Focus chief executive Mike O'Connor said: "Copyright infringement is not to be condoned, but people who are innocent should not have to pay a fee to challenge accusations.
"Twenty pounds may sound like a small sum, but it could deter those living on low-incomes from challenging unfair allegations."
He added the best way to reduce unnecessary appeals was for Ofcom to require a high standard of evidence from copyright holders to avoid notifications being sent out on the basis of "flimsy evidence".
Ofcom noted its revised code stated rights holders would only be able to gather evidence using measures approved by the regulator.Punishments
ISPs - who must also contribute to the cost of running the scheme - will ultimately be required to take steps against repeat offenders such as limiting their broadband speed or suspending their accounts.
However, Ofcom noted this would require further legislation that could only be considered after the letter scheme had been in force for a year.
Even so, members of the Creative Coalition Campaign, welcomed the latest step towards implementing the copyright crackdown.
"We urge ISPs to begin building their systems now and to work constructively with rights holders, Ofcom and government to get notice-sending up and running as soon as possible," said John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians' Union.