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Ofcom to impose 'three strikes' rule for illegal downloaders

Major UK Internet service providers (ISPs) will start sending piracy warnings to their customers in early 2014, according to recently published rules.

The warnings are part of the Digital Economy Act (DEA), a controversial piece of legislation approved in 2010 intended to crack down on Internet piracy. It calls on ISPs to warn users about alleged illegal file sharing, and place repeat violators on a Copyright Infringement List (CIL).

Implementation of the DEA is being handled by media regulator Ofcom, which yesterday published documents that outline how ISPs and customers will be affected by the legislation."We expect that the first notifications may be sent in early 2014," Ofcom said in its report.

The DEA only applies to ISPs with more than 400,000 subscribers. If a copyright owner notices that their content is being pirated online, they have 10 days to gather evidence and submit a report to an ISP, which has another 10 days to identify the offending subscriber and send them a warning, if appropriate.

The DEA essentially employs the 'three strikes' method. Customers downloading pirated data will receive three warnings; the first two will be sent via email or standard mail, the third via tracked mail. The warnings "should be written in plain English and contain sufficient information to inform subscribers about their situation," Ofcom said.

Those who ignore three warnings within a 12-month period will be placed on the CIL. "After obtaining a court order to obtain personal details, copyright owners will be able to take action against those included in the list," Ofcom said.

As noted by The Guardian, the DEA will affect ISPs like BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk Group, and Virgin Media. BT and TalkTalk opposed the legislation, but efforts to force a judicial review of the DEA were thrown out in March.

Organisations like the Open Rights Group expressed concern that customers will have to pay £20 to appeal and suggested that establishments with open Wi-Fi networks, like hotels, libraries, and coffee shops, will have to fight accusations involving their customers.

"The appeals are a joke. The government has decided that 'I didn't do it' is not a defence. Some people will almost certainly end up in court having done nothing wrong," executive director Jim Killock said in a statement.