UK media watchdog Ofcom and internet service providers (ISPs) have been charged with cutting online piracy by 70% over the next year under plans revealed in the Digital Britain report today (June 16).

The report, led by Communications Minister Stephen Carter, proposes legislation that will give the Ofcom new powers over ISPs.

The internet companies will now have to write to customers that are infringing copyright to warn them their behaviour is unlawful and, in the case of repeat offenders, will hand their details over to rights owners to allow them to pursue civil cases.

The report also proposed that the creative industries, including film, music and gaming, form a “rights agency” to develop a detailed code of practice to underpin plans but stopped short of laying out a framework for how the industries should proceed. However, the report warns Ofcom will be step in and impose its own code if they fail to act over the next 12 months.

If the 70% target, which Ofcom will measure, is not reached over the next year, the watchdog will be allowed to use “backstop powers” to take technical action against repeat offenders including blocking their access to sites, bandwidth capping, which will reduce the speed of a user’s internet access, and content filtering.

The report said that research has shown that most people stop unlawful file-sharing if they receive notification, and this measure will only be used if an offender continues to download illegally after receiving warnings.

The long-awaited Digital Britain report, which lays out the government’s blueprint for the digital future of UK, has made clear the government’s position on illegal downloading. It said: “The Government believes piracy of intellectual property for profit is theft and will be pursued as such through the criminal law. The civil infringement of taking someone else’s intellectual property or passing it on to others through file-sharing without any compensating payment is, in plain English, wrong.”

Other key proposals from the report include:

  • A 50p per month levy on homes and businesses with a fixed phone line to raise £1.5bn for a the next generation of internet connections.
  • Plans to use a portion of the BBC’s licence fee to make broadband available to everyone by 2012, and after that date allow other broadcasters to apply for funding for regional news and children’s programming.
  • Backing for a merger between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster’s commercial arm. Channel 4 has also been asked to update its official remit, which could see film play a bigger role.