Ofcom's code on file-sharers
On a quiet Friday afternoon, Ofcom has slipped out a story of some significance for those who followed the progress of the hugely controversial Digital Economy Act. The regulator has to explain how the measures against unlawful file-sharing will be implemented.
You can read through the code here - and Ofcom is inviting responses. I've pulled out a few highlights.
• Ofcom says there will be a three-stage notification process whereby internet service providers will send letters to people accused by content owners of copyright infringement. After a third letter, the ISP's customer can then be put on a list submitted to the copyright owner - although, at that stage, they will still be anonymous. The content owner can then choose to get a court order obliging the ISP to identify the customer so that it can take legal action.
• Ofcom is keen to stress that it will act to protect the interests of consumers, ensuring that allegations are based on credible evidence and then advising the subscriber how to challenge the charges and how to protect their wireless network from being hijacked.
• In the first stage, the code will only apply to ISPs with more than 400,000 customers, though that will cover more than 96% of internet users. That may reassure universities, libraries and other public institutions which operate wireless networks - there had been suggestions that they'd have to close them down. Ofcom makes it clear that if there is evidence of infringement beyond the big ISPs, the situation could change.
• Who will pay? The Department of Business has just completed a consultation on a plan which would see 75% of the cost met by the media owners and 25% by the ISPs.
Of course, the really controversial part of the act was the power to order the suspension of a suspected offender's internet account. Ofcom points out that was always a reserve power, which could be introduced if the secretary of state decided it was appropriate. That now means the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt; Ofcom says he "has not indicated his intention to make use of these provisions at this time".
I wondered whether this meant the coalition had decided to soften the Digital Economy Act, but an aide to Mr Hunt made it evident that this was not the case. It had always been clear this was a reserve power - and there was certainly no intention of repealing the act, as some campaigners had hoped.
The Open Rights Group has responded angrily to Ofcom's code, calling it rushed and unclear, with no clear line between the notifications and potential disconnection regimes. But the picture painted by some opponents back in the spring - thousands disconnected without due process and all public wi-fi networks closed down - currently seems unlikely to come to pass.