Internet piracy: UK ISPs close to deal with entertainment industry

Music and movie industry bodies will monitor file-sharing networks for copyright infringements under the deal. Photograph: Adam Peck/PA

UK internet service providers and the entertainment industry are near to agreeing a deal to combat piracy.

After four years of negotiations, BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media have said they will send "educational" letters to people who illegally download copyrighted music, television or films.

Under the voluntary copyright alert programme (Vcap), the music and movie industry bodies will monitor file-sharing networks for copyright infringements, recording the IP addresses of downloaders.

The IP addresses, which identify individual broadband connections, will be given to UK ISPs who in turn will send out a warning letter about the alleged infringement to the registered subscriber of that broadband connection. The first letters will be sent out in 2015.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is understood to be looking at the deal, but told the Guardian it did not rubber-stamp agreements.

BT, Sky and Virgin Media said they were in talks with the BPI, which represents the British music industry, and the Motion Picture Association (MPA) over Vcap, but that an agreement had not yet been made.

The media industry originally intended for Vcap to target alleged repeat copyright infringers with letters informing them of possible punitive measures. Access to a database of known infringers was also requested, which could have led to legal action against internet subscribers.

Instead, the draft agreement, seen by the BBC, suggests that no more than 2.5m letters will be sent out each year and that they will have an "educational" tone.

Those who download illegal material can expect to receive up to four alerts. The cost of the system will be shared between the rights holders, who will contribute £750,000 or 75% of the cost for each ISP, with a further £75,000 or 75% of the costs a year to cover the running of the service.

Vcap was proposed as an alternative to the 2010 Digital Economy Act, which envisioned repeat copyright infringers having their internet connections terminated.