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UK plans to stop punishing people for online piracy starting in 2015 … sort of

Britain has offered a plan that will effectively stop the criminal punishments meted out to online pirates.
Britain has offered a plan that will effectively stop the criminal punishments meted out to online pirates.
photo by ben1804/deviantart.com

On Tuesday, vg247.com ignited a frenzy when they published an article indicating the United Kingdom would stop actively pursuing those people engaged in Internet piracy. For the most part, the reaction has been basically total elation on the part of online pirates everywhere, a demographic that includes pretty much everyone under the age of forty with access to the Internet (except people like my stupid, moral brother and his ilk who believe in the "sanctity of the law," whatever that is).

According to reports, beginning in 2015, Britain will officially stop pursuing via criminal prosecution those people it identifies as online pirates. Instead of filing charges, the UK will send pirates up to four sternly worded letters. If the thought of a reprimand in the shape of a form letter scares you, then the UK authorities' plan will have worked. For those of you who aren't scared by idle threats, though, expect nothing else to happen beyond the sudden despair that accompanies opening what you thought was a letter (yay! actual mail!) only to find out it was a note from the state.

The whole deal is made possible via VCAP, or the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme, an agreement between the UK's biggest ISP's, British politicians and the movie and music industries. Chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), Geoff Tayler, was all smiles, saying, “This landmark initiative marks the first time that entertainment companies, broadband providers and the Government have come together in a major campaign to engage consumers through their passion for music, film, TV and other content and to support them in enjoying it safely and legally online. It should mark a real step forward for digital entertainment in the UK.”

When you find out that pirated content accounts for almost 25% of downloads in the UK, you can understand British authorities' hesitation to start chasing down the guilty parties. Instead, Geoff Taylor explains that VCAP's purpose wasn't punishment, but “persuading the persuadable, such as parents who do not know what is going on with their net connection.”

The folks at torrentfreak.com weren't as smitten with the news as everyone else was, though. On Wednesday, they published a piece that explained why this announcement wasn't quite as exciting as everyone believed. Not content to let poor people download their movies, music and video games in peace, the site assaulted readers with a slew of (ugh!) facts.

Most pertinent to torrentfreak's argument was the fact that participation in VCAP was "voluntary" and far from all-inclusive. In other words, those organizations who opted out of VCAP (like smaller music labels and movie production companies) as well as those companies who weren't asked to participate in VCAP (like porn manufacturers) can still the sue the ever-loving snot out of anyone who illegally possesses their intellectual property. The fun doesn't stop there, though, because according to torrentfreak, "any of the copyright holders involved in VCAP can still file a lawsuit or seek police action against ANYONE engaged in illegal file-sharing."

In other words, the British government might not chase you down for online piracy, but there's a team of corporate attorneys who are just chomping at the bit to get you in court. Personally, I'd assume jail time was a less stressful alternative.