BT’s Piracy Warning Information is Confusing and Outdated

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UK ISPs will soon begin sending piracy warning notices to their subscribers on behalf of the Get it Right From a Genuine Site campaign. BT, one of the ISPs involved, has just published an advisory which aims to inform customers how the system will work. While it's generally helpful, it confusingly mixes up terminology and focuses on out-dated sharing systems.

btAs recently reported, UK ISPs will soon partner up with the Get it Right From a Genuine Site campaign to send warning notices to users whose accounts have been used to share copyright content.

While the campaign is educational in both tone and aim, it is still likely to worry warning recipients, even though there are no immediate repercussions for being caught. With that in mind, ISPs are preparing to inform their users as to what the scheme is all about.

A couple of hours ago via its website, it appears that BT became the first ISP to officially announce the campaign’s arrival. Virgin Media has had a section bookmarked on its site for some time but currently there is no information available.

The other ISPs involved, TalkTalk and Sky, seem less prepared at this point, so well done to BT for going first. However, BT’s announcement has the potential to cause confusion, despite starting well.

“Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing is the transfer of data from one person’s computer directly to multiple other computers without the use of an intermediate server. This is known as a file sharing network and is set up using peer-to-peer software on your computer (also known as a programme, application or client),” it reads.

From here, BT gets its apples and pears a bit mixed up.

“You may have heard of networks like Gnutella, Napster, Torrentz and ThePirateBay. If your computer is online and you make files available for sharing in a peer-to-peer network, other members within that network can download files from you without you noticing,” the ISP writes.

While Gnutella and Napster are indeed the names of peer-to-peer networks, both Torrentz and ThePirateBay are torrent index sites. What makes the situation even more confusing is that the Napster peer-to-peer service has been dead for 15 years and is now a legitimate content platform. That could make less well-informed Napster customers believe they’re paying for a product that could get them a warning notice.

The Gnutella network (on which the LimeWire operated) is technically alive but on continual life support, and Torrentz shut down last year so doesn’t even exist. And suggesting that people can download files from torrent users without them knowing is clearly a step too far.

That said, BT correctly gives The Pirate Bay a prominent position, since the vast majority (if not all) of the warning notices going out will target BitTorrent users. However, instead of telling users how BitTorrent sharing works, the ISP focuses on how old-fashioned and largely redundant applications offer content for download.

By default, peer-to-peer software applications search for and share content on your computer with others. Normally, peer-to-peer software usually runs as soon as you turn on your computer and continues to run in the background. Even if you disable sharing/uploading, copyrighted content in a “shared” folder on your computer it can still be seen by others using the same peer-to-peer network. Some peer-to-peer software can even reset your preferences to resume uploading.

While the above might have been true when KaZaA, LimeWire and Morpheus ruled the pirate seas way over a decade ago, this is not the way BitTorrent works at all. BitTorrent users are completely aware of what they’re sharing, because they have to obtain a torrent file first to get the content. BitTorrent software does not search users’ computers for content to share without their permission, users are in complete control.

In fact, the ‘shared folder’ applications referenced by BT are more or less antiques in today’s file-sharing landscape. Like VHS and cassette tapes, there are still people out there using ‘shared folder’ applications, but these people are not the focus of the GetitRight campaign. Giving them a prominent mention is confusing and makes little to no sense.

Things also get messy when BT ventures into the world of file-sharing protocols and clients.

There are many different file types (also called protocols) that are used for the file sharing, such as BitTorrent, Deluge, iLivid, and Tixati etc. Each Protocol will have its own client. Popular BitTorrent clients are Vuze, Transmission, Deluge, uTorrent, Tribler, Tixati, BitComet, Torch etc.

First off, the term ‘file types’ is not interchangeable with the term ‘protocol’. A file type is something like .doc, .mp3 or .avi. A protocol is the technical communications system a file-sharing client relies upon to share with other clients. While BitTorrent is indeed a file-sharing protocol, Deluge, iLivid and Tixati are either torrent clients or download managers, they are not file-sharing protocols at all.

All that being said, in the rest of the announcement BT does a good job of explaining how users are tracked by copyright holders and detailing when notices will be sent out. It also offers reassurance that users’ details have not been shared with copyright holders and that broadband services will not be affected as a result of receiving a warning.

Finally, BT also provides some new information which indicates that users will able to see what content they’re being accused of downloading by following a link in warning notices. BT customers will be required to login using their BTID and password which will get them access to the Get it Right Information Portal.

“Once you click through the link on the email you will land on a BT page which from where you can go through to the portal. BT only provides you a secure access to the Get It Right Information Portal so that your data is kept completely confidential,” the company concludes.

While there’s clearly no intent on BT’s behalf to mislead, its advisory (here) could be improved by the removal of several paragraphs and the editing of others.

Received a warning notice from any UK ISP? Contact TF in confidence here.

Update: BT has now updated its advisory, removing the outdated information and correcting the errors.

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