New controls on Internet privacy were outlined yesterday by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom under the Digital Economy Act 2010, which will require large internet services providers (ISPs) to send warning letters to people suspected of illegal downloads of copyright material.

The code will initially cover ISPs with more than 400,000 broadband-enabled fixed lines, which are currently BT, Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk Group and Virgin Media. Together these providers account for more than 93 per cent of the retail broadband market in the UK.

If a customer receives three letters or more within a 12-month period, anonymous information may be provided to copyright owners showing them which infringement reports are linked to that customer’s account.

The copyright owner may then seek a court order requiring the ISP to reveal the identity of the customer, with a view to taking legal action for infringement under the Copyright Designs and Patent Act 1988.

owever, users will be able to appeal against a report on their alleged infringement at a £20 cost, which would be refunded if their appeal is successful.  Some consumer groups are outraged at this ‘guilty until proven innocent approach’.

But Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey said that ISPs had to be able to “protect their investment”, adding`: “They have the right to charge people to access their content if they wish, whether in the physical world or on the internet.”

“We are putting in place a system to educate people about copyright to ensure they know what legitimate content is and where to find it,” he said.

And Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s consumer group director said: “Ofcom will oversee a fair appeals process and also ensure that rights holders’ investigations under the code are rigorous and transparent.”

Given the work involved in conducting the consultation and policing the draft code, Ofcom says that it doesn’t expect the first customer notification letters to be sent before March 1 2014.