UK gets tough on music pirates

Six major British ISPs are to get tough with illegal peer-to-peer music file-sharers. That’s the stick. But there’s also a carrot, whereby they’ll adopt a legitimate scheme which will allow unlimited downloads for a modest monthly fee.

Illegal file-sharers will get an official letter warning them that they risk losing connectivity unless the user complies, and that such users risk criminal action. The UK’s six largest ISPs (British Telecom, Virgin Media, Carphone Warehouse, Tiscali, Orange and BSkyB) which make up 90% of the UK’s home connections have signed a MOA with the BPI (and the MPAA), the official body that represents the UK music industry, to mount an easy-to-use solution that they will offer to their customers. Moreover the fee levied needed to be affordable if it were to reverse the current pattern where 19 out of every 20 tracks downloaded comes from unauthorised swapping sites.

However, there are critics, saying that a tough and possibly criminal response would be “disproportionate”. It might also risk barring a complete home and multiple users when the real culprit is just one – probably spotty - music fan. Musician Billy Bragg, speaking on BBC Radio, said he wanted more cash to flow to the artists but at the same time did not want to criminalise such users. He admitted that the first album he ever “owned” was an illegal taped copy of a music cassette – which he had subsequently bought many times over.

In the past there has been a reluctance from ISPs to act as the music industry’s “policeman”.

Andy Burnham, the government’s Media Secretary, said there had to be a solution, and people needed to pay for music. He stressed that the government’s preferred approach was an industry-led option that gained user acceptance, or else the government would introduce legislation next April. This might take the shape of what some have described as an “iPod tax” of around $60 on every storage device bought, and ploughed back to the music industry. Government have also said they favour a “three strikes and you’re cut off” policy.

Most of the ISPs mentioned already have their own official download options. Indeed, BSkyB a few days ago linked with Universal Music to offer a legal option. What might be different with this BPI scheme is that the cost is low, and the music options extremely wideranging.