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Ofcom begins work on file sharing Code of Practice

Code could be in place by January 2011


The government plans to crack down harder people illegally sharing files online.

The Office of Communications (Ofcom), in conjunction with stakeholders, is developing a Copyright Infringement Code of Practice (CICoP) aimed at reducing illegal file sharing activity by as much as 75%.

The telecommunications regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries is holding the first of a series of development CICoP meetings with a range of stakeholders, including Internet Service Providers (ISPs), rights holders and consumer groups, this morning.

Ofcom declined to say how many stakeholder meetings would take place before a draft CICoP was developed and put out to a [12-week] consultation in May, but said it was hoping that a statement on the Code would be published in September which will then need approval by the European Commission and should result in it being in place by January 2011.

Digital Economy Act

Under the recently passed Digital Economy Act, Ofcom’s remit was expanded to include developing a range of measures designed to significantly reduce illicit file sharing activity via peer-to-peer networks.

The CICoP is the mechanism by which Ofcom intends to ensure that the two initial obligations placed on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under the Act – and in order to secure a more unified approach by ISPs and rightholders when tackling illegal file sharing activity – are met.

Illegal file sharing activity

ISPs will now be required to notify subscribers that their account has been used for unlawful file sharing activity. 

ISPs will also have to maintain a list of subscribers who have received multiple notifications of alleged illegal file sharing activity which remains unchallenged. These subscribers may have their details passed to rights holders who may then go on to take legal action, Ofcom said.

Ofcom stressed that any transfer of personal information would require a court order and the processing of subscriber data must be undertaken in compliance with the relevant data protection laws.

As well as developing the CICoP, Ofcom has also been charged with establishing a series of mechanisms aimed at resolving any disputes that might arise between parties to the Code.

Which? responds

Richard Hyde, economic policy research assistant at Which? applauded the development of the CICoP. ‘We welcome the fact that Ofcom has started the consultation process on the development of the initial obligations code and is attempting to include consumer representatives into these important discussions,’ he said.

‘The initial obligations code will have important implications for consumers. For example, it will determine how ISPs carry out their initial obligations to notify consumers that their internet account has been used for illicit file sharing.

‘Which? has argued extensively that the voice of the consumer needs to be heard loud and clearly in the development of the Code. We welcome Ofcom’s moves to ensure this will happen. We intend to work to ensure this continues to be the case and the Code minimises unfounded accusations of unlawful file sharing made about consumers.’

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