State rules out anti-piracy letters

Nation’s illegal downloaders can breathe easy for now as government reveals future plans to dissuade, not prosecute them

It’s the letter we all dread. Written in red ink on official headed paper. Apparently you’ve been violating – it all seems a bit harsh given you were only watching an episode of ‘Dexter’ that’s already been broadcast on Danish television. 

Well, good news, because according to the culture minister, Uffe Elbæk, three-strike anti-piracy warning letters sent out to users suspected of copyright violation will not be introduced in Denmark.

The government will instead fund licenced music services and encourage users to choose legal options.

The change in approach follows the widespread protest that greeted the signing of the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) by 22 EU nations (including Denmark) in January. ACTA was designed to set international standards for controlling copyright violators, but its critics argued that the agreement limited the freedoms of internet users.

The European Parliament will vote to ratify ACTA on July 4, though five parliamentary committees have so far recommended that MEPs vote against it.

Thousands took to the streets of Copenhagen in March to protest against ACTA, and Elbæk told Politiken newspaper that this action “created a political context that made the letter model nearly impossible to carry out”.

Authorities had planned to use the controversial ‘letter model’ – currently in operation in France – to tackle internet piracy by sending warning letters to people suspected of illegally sharing files over the internet.

A positive information campaign will replace the letter model, however, with the government aiming to teach and encourage people to use legal alternatives to access music, films and books.

“If there is a real choice, consumers will use the legal methods,” Elbæk said.

An innovation forum has also been proposed, where ideas for new legal business models will be developed. The Culture Ministry hopes to encourage future collaboration across industries while ensuring consumers have equal access to creative content. A task force will also inform users of illegal services about other alternatives by writing in comment fields and on social networks.

The Culture Ministry also hopes to educate internet users by teaming up with the telecoms industry, rights-holders and the Consumer Council to launch a joint awareness project later this year to inform consumers about legal or illegal services.

This alternative to the letter model, known as the ‘pirate package’, will make it easier for infringing websites to be blocked.

According to the Culture Ministry, a written code of conduct has been agreed between Denmark’s ISPs (internet service providers) and rights-holders, meaning that if rights-holders want a site to be blocked, they only need to take one ISP to court. It is not certain yet whether an appeals process will take place if the right-holder wins the case.

ACTA critic Henrik Chulu, here speaking during a demonstration against the measure this spring, said there was still cause to be alert (Photo: Peter Stanners)“This is an automated process where the rights-holders need only contact one organisation or one telephone company, which will then make sure to communicate this decision to the other telcos,” the ministry writes.

Anette Høyrup from the consumer advocacy group Forbrugerrådet was an active opponent of the ‘letter model’ and is glad that there is a new initiative to tackle internet piracy.

“We think that the Culture Ministry is taking a positive approach to the use of the internet,” Høyrup told Politiken. “It is important that one realises we are living in digital times, and we see this as a victory for both consumers and artists.”

Henrik Chulu, the co-founder of the Danish internet think-tank Bitbureauet who is an outspoken critic of ACTA, said he was pleased about the news, but added there are still problems.

“First of all, this cements the problematic DNS-blocking scheme already in place,” he told online news site Techdirt. “Secondly, it opens up for DMCA-style notice-and-takedown procedures. As we've seen in the US this inevitably leads to abuse because it sidesteps courts and privatises enforcement.”

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