UK broadband users who access illegal media content over their home connection could soon be receiving warning emails from their ISPs.

The four biggest providers – Sky, BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk – have signed up to the new Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme, which is a government-backed anti-piracy initiative.

The initiative is spearheaded by Creative Content UK, a partnership between the government, ISPs and copyright holders. Its aim is to combat digital piracy such as illegal downloads of music and movies.

How will it work?

ISPs say they won’t monitor user activity directly. Instead they will rely on reports from companies of copyright infringements. If a copyright holder can identify a specific IP address used to access material illegally, the ISP will then send an email to the user with that IP address.

The email is likely to mention the specific infringement and include links to information about piracy as a guide to what is acceptable.

The main target for this initiative is torrent sites, where the download and upload connections are peer to peer. Tracking people who turn to other sources of illegal media, such as direct download sites, is more complex.

Are you monitoring your users’ online activity?

Whilst it has been said that this initiative is designed to raise awareness of piracy rather than to instil fear into users, businesses will certainly be looking to redouble their efforts to control how employees use company broadband connections.

Besides the obvious lack of productivity that can arise from unchecked personal use of business internet connections, employers have long been using acceptable use policies (AUPs) to define the kinds of activity that they deem to be permissible.

In the light of this anti-piracy initiative, many organisations will be looking to review the terms of their AUP – or indeed introduce one – as well as ensuring any internet monitoring software is up-to-date.

Meanwhile, a Virgin Media spokesperson told ISPReview, “Rights holders will not have access to any personal information about alleged infringers. Right holders will merely flag to participating ISPs individual IP addresses (in ‘Copyright Infringement Reports’ – or CIRs) that have been detected and verified where those IP addresses have been used to upload and share infringing content using ISPs’ networks. Rights holders will do this by using proven electronic scanning technologies which will be searching publicly available information.”