Six of the UK’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), BT, Virgin, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse, have agreed to join with the Music industry to try and tackle the growing issue of online piracy. The proposal from the government will begin with letters being sent to users suspected of using peer to peer file sharing programmes to illegally share music etc. The warning letters will be sent to thousands of homes across the UK where illegal downloading has been detected, alerting them to the fact they are being monitored. It may be the first time that parents or families know that they or their children are breaking the law. Hard-core users could be subject to measures such as slower connections, traffic management, filtering or marking legitimate content downloaded to identify them.
The ISPs have signed a Memorandum of Understanding drawn up by the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR). It covers consumers who both upload and download music. Previously the BPI has called for a “three-strikes” system which would remove internet connections for persistent pirates if three warnings went ignored. However, many ISP providers have resisted this and have said it is not their job to act as the law. Currently in France, users are disconnected for a year after a third offence. The Government has asked Ofcom to lead negotiations between ISPs and the film/music industries on how to sanction persistent and blatant offenders, if there is no agreement, legislation will be introduced.
Illegal downloaders can be detected by an enforcement team set up by the BPI, the music trade body. Its monitors log on to websites where music is shared, such as LimeWire, Bearshare and BitTorrent, and note the IP addresses users. This identifies a unique internet connection, but not the subscriber’s name and address. This information is then passed on to the relevant internet provider, which links the information to an address and sends a warning letter. The BPI and copyright holders are not given culprits’ names, which means that relatively small offenders will not immediately face the risk of civil penalties.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI said: “All of the major ISPs in the UK now recognise they have a responsibility to deal with illegal file-sharers on their networks. The focus is on people sharing files illegally; there is not an acceptable level of file-sharing. Musicians need to be paid like everyone else. File-sharing (of copyright tracks without permission) is not anonymous, it is not secret, it is against the law.”
About 6.5 million Britons are thought to have downloaded music illegally last year. It has been estimated that illegal downloads will cost the music industry alone Â£1 billion over the next five years. Breach of copyright, by copying music or film via the internet, is a civil offence. All the cases so far in the UK have been settled before court, with people paying an average of Â£2,000 to reach agreement. An survey of music ownership showed that MP3 players owned by teenagers and students contained on average 842 illegally copied songs.