We have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that Ofcom's proposed new Code of Practice doesn't look like it'll kill public Wi-Fi.
The bad news is that if you're naughty, you'll be listed in the Big Book of Dodgy Downloaders so that copyright owners can sue you silly.
Here are the 10 things you need to know, and the one thing that'll make you go "WTF?"
1. No one needs to panic yet
The Code of Practice is a draft, not a final version, and it's got to go through a consultation and approval process first. The consultation period ends in July, then it requires EU approval and UK Parliament approval. Ofcom hopes to have a final version in place by early next year.
2. Small ISPs aren't included
Ofcom proposes that the Code of Practice will only cover ISPs with more than 400,000 subscribers each. That means the big seven - BT, Talk Talk, Virgin Media, Sky, Orange, O2 and the Post Office - will be covered from day one, so the Code will affect 96% of fixed-line broadband users. Are small ISPs rubbing their hands with glee or panicking about their impending bandwidth bills?
3. Mobile internet isn't covered
The draft Code of Practice is purely for fixed-line ISPs, not mobile ones. Maybe that's because mobile internet is so pricey, downloading a dodgy DVD costs more than any court could possibly fine you.
Ofcom says it's because piracy levels are low on mobile networks and that they are costly for the operators to police, given that mobile internet users are on dynamic IP addresses and "an IP address identified as related to copyright infringement may be in use by multiple individual subscribers at the time of the alleged infringement."
4. It's a three-strike process
Ofcom proposes a three-stage notification process for ISPs, rather like the verbal warning / written warning / final written warning disciplinary process many employers adopt. You'll receive your first angry-gram the first time you're caught, a second one if you're caught again at least one month later, and the third and final warning can be triggered a month after that. Each notification will include the evidence against you.
5. You'll have the right to appeal
Feel you've been fingered unfairly? Ofcom "will establish an independent, robust subscriber appeals mechanism for consumers". The appeals body will be able to award costs and/or compensation to people unfairly or wrongly targeted, which suggests that appealing might be an expensive exercise.
The grounds for appeal are pretty much what you'd expect: "it wasn't me", because you've been wrongly matched to an offending IP address; "it wasn't infringement", because you were downloading Ubuntu, not U2; "it wasn't me" again, because your connection had been hacked; or "you're doing it wrong", because the ISP or copyright owner didn't stick to the rules.
6. Public Wi-Fi doesn't appear to be doomed
Ofcom argues that Wi-Fi is essentially the same as fixed-line broadband, but while it argues that Wi-Fi providers such as hotels and coffee shops are indeed Internet Service Providers, "the number of subscribers would not meet the required threshold". So maybe we're not going to lose public Wi-Fi after all.
7. There's a new acronym to worry about
CIR, or Copyright Infringement Reports, are documents produced by copyright owners such as record labels claiming copyright infringement. They must include "robust and accurate evidence" of wrongdoing and be sent to your ISP within 10 days of gathering that evidence. Your ISP will then match the IP address to the account holder.
9. Nobody's crippling your internet just yet
There's nothing in the proposed Code about throttling connections, blocking ports or booting people off the net altogether, but that doesn't mean such measures aren't coming. If the new Code doesn't "significantly reduce online infringement" - which, let's be honest, it won't - then the Digital Economy Act "gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce further obligations."
10. You can change the Code
None of this is final, and Ofcom is actively encouraging interested parties to have a look at its proposals and comment on them. You'll find the consultation documents at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/copyright-infringement/.
The WTF bit…
In much the same way that hungry curry addicts can choose the most tempting dish from a takeaway menu, angry copyright owners will be able to choose targets for their lawyers from a Big Book of Dodgy Downloaders, known as a Copyright Infringement List or CIL.
This is an ISP-provided list of people the ISP has sent a third bad behaviour warning to, and it'll be sent to copyright owners on request. However, it won't include your name and address - that requires a court order - and it will only list warnings that are relevant to the copyright owner, so if Sony's asking for a CIL it'll only get lists of people allegedly caught downloading Sony's stuff.
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