Ofcom has revealed that copyright holders seeking to obtain details of illegal file-sharers in a bid to start legal proceedings against them will be required to obtain a court order first.

Under the Digital Economy Act, which was made law by the government last week, Ofcom is to oversee the implementation of measures designed to combat internet piracy.

Ofcom clarified that ISPs will be required to notify web users of allegations of illegal file-sharing by copyright holders as well "maintain a list of the subscribers who receive multiple unchallenged notifications".

"Subscribers must be provided with sufficient information in any notification such that they can challenge the basis under which the notification has been sent. They must also have access to a robust and effective appeals mechanism," Ofcom said

The watchdog also said that copyright holders could only gain access to the details of web users that had not challenged the accusations of illegal downloading by obtaining a court order.

"Any such transfer of personal information will require a court order. Any processing of subscriber data must be in compliance with the relevant data protection laws."

Ofcom has eight months to put together a Copyright Infringement Code of Practice that would introduce and govern the internet piracy measures.

However, it is currently considering whether to let ISPs to write the code themselves.

"Our first task will be to establish the feasibility of an industry drafted code," Ofcom said.

"Such a code would need to have the support of a sufficiently wide range of stakeholders for it to be credible and would need to be submitted to Ofcom within a period of time to satisfy the deadline for implementation."

Ofcom said if this failed, the watchdog would "move quickly to draft an appropriate code on which we will seek input from all stakeholders".

The first draft of the code is expected to be published in May, with a further statement to come in September. The code must then be submitted to the European Commission.

Under the Digital Economy Act, the watchdog is also required to provide the Secretary of State (currently Peter Mandelson) with quarterly reports covering levels of illegal file-sharing in the UK and the extent of legal action by copyright owners.

If the measures fail to reduce net piracy by 75 percent, the Secretary of State could ask ISPs to implement 'technical measures' against those accused of illegal downloading. These include restricting connection speeds and temporary internet bans.

See also: Digital Economy Bill to be debated today