There is a dangerous rumor doing the rounds on the internet at the moment that the ‘British government has decriminalized online video game, music and movie piracy, scrapping fuller punishment plans after branding them unworkable.’
This rumor was started on Tuesday, when UK video game blog website VG24/7 published an article (oddly titled “Britain just decriminalized online game piracy”) – based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the newly agreed Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (VCAP). The clue here is the in the ‘voluntary’ part, as VCAP is a non-binding agreement with some UK ISPs that in no way replaces existing legal sanctions on downloading copyrighted material.
Don’t be fooled. This doesn’t mean piracy is legal. Let’s go into what this really means.
For years now, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the Motion Picture Association (MPA) have pushed for both tougher legal sanctions, and greater cooperation from the UK’s ISPs in their effort to combat copyright piracy. These efforts faced a great deal of resistance, most notably from the ISPs, and in May resulted in what for the entertainment industry is a very disappointing agreement – VCAP.
Firstly, only the UKs major ISPs (BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media) have signed up to it. Secondly, it has been ‘watered down beyond all recognition’ from what the entertainment industry originally lobbied for. Instead of ISPs compiling a database of known offenders, which could then be used as basis for further legal action, or agreeing to take putative measures against repeated ‘pirates’, the ISPs have simply agreed to send out letters which will be ‘educational’ in tone, and aimed at ‘promoting an increase in awareness’ over copyright issues.
As a further blow to the entertainment industry, the total number VCAP letters sent out has been capped at 2.5 million, and no individual can receive more than four letters (after which no further action will be taken). As a concession to the entrainment industry, participating ISP have agreed to store copyright infringer’s details for a year, but will not hand this information onto entertainment industry bodies (or other third parties).
Furthermore, the BPI and MPA have agreed to shoulder most of administrative costs involved in the new agreement, paying £75,000 (approx. US$130,000) or 75 percent of the total costs, (whichever is less) to the ISPs.
As internet law specialist Steve Kuncewicz told the BBC in regards to VCAP back in May,
‘I imagine the content owners are going to be very angry about it. There’s no punitive backstop to any of this.’
The first letters are expected to go out sometime in 2015.
A toothless VCAP does not mean piracy is legalized
Where the VG24/7 article (and its imitators) have gone dangerously wrong is confusing (or at least conflating) a weak voluntary agreement with select Internet Service Providers, with the law. Copyright infringement in the UK remains very definitely illegal, and downloaders face not just criminal action, but potentially ruinous civil damages.
The VCAP agreement does make it is unlikely that ISPs will hand over customers’ details to entertainment industry representatives, but thanks to the new rushed in ‘emergency’ Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill, ISPs will continue to store all users’ data, which the police will to have full access to.
Furthermore, although under VCAP ISPs have said they will not share data on copyright infringers with any third parties, the fact that they are going to keep this data for a year remains cause for concern.
To stay safe, always use a VPN
Because connecting to an IronSocket VPN server creates an encrypted tunnel between your computer (including mobile devices) and the VPN server, your ISP cannot tell what you get up to on the internet (so for example it cannot tell that you are P2P downloading using BitTorrent).
In addition to this, the VPN server also acts as a proxy server, and hides your true IP from anyone who wishes to trace it (which is simplicity itself given how with the P2P protocol works – your IP is shared with every other user you share a file with).
Even with VCAP’s softly approach, do you really want to end up on an ISP’s register of copyright offenders, and receive an ‘educational’ letter? Given that additional legal sanctions remain very much in force, we find any such attitude to be very dangerous…