Internet service providers (ISPs) may have to serve "several million" copyright infringement notices (CIRs) a year at a cost of up to £15m if provisions in the Digital Economy Bill become law.
This emerged from a consultation document published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on how best to split the costs to fight online pirates.
Evidence from the copyright holders suggests that they lose £400m a year to online pirates, the government said. But consultants for the government said that if online piracy was curbed, the benefit to the copyright holders would be only £200m per year. Not every download would result in an actual sale because many downloads are equivalent to window-shopping, they said.
Since rights holders would be the main winners of anti-piracy measures, the government proposed they bear 75% of the costs, and ISPs 25%.
Government consultant Mott MacDonald said the costs would depend largely on how many notices are issued, so it is vital that copyright owners give much firmer indications of the level of CIRs they are prepared to generate," the government said.
"Without this, ISPs cannot make the necessary investment decisions and Ofcom cannot start the process of deciding the flat fee (to be charged to rights holders for processing and issuing notices)."