British Web users who engage in illegal file-sharing of music, have had it pretty easy up to now. While the RIAA was taking people to court over the issue in America, in cases resulting in crippling fines being levied, British citizens were reasonably safe from prosecution. But things are set to change.
The fight against illegal file-sharing of music in the UK began last October, when the music industry asked British ISPs to start monitoring what their customers were downloading. The BPI (British Phonographic Industry), the spokesman for the British music industry, wanted tough penalties for those caught sharing copyrighted music, with permanent cutting off from the Internet being the ultimate deterrent.
The British government then added its support to the cause, and in March of this year, Virgin Media was the first ISP to agree to start trialling a policing of the Internet. It did this by sending letters out to customers who the BPI had pinpointed as being illegal file-sharers. The letters went out in June, and included the line: “If you don’t read this, your broadband could be disconnected.” Virgin wasn’t happy with this wording, and made it clear that no disconnections were going to take place, and that this was merely an educational campaign.
So we already had a divergence of opinion, with the ISP only agreeing to have its customers informed they had been caught, while the BPI were insistent that failure to stop committing the piracy would result in legal action.
Just last week, 5 more ISPs agreed to take part in the scheme, with customers being warned about their future conduct. While the newly signed Memorandum of Understanding between the ISPs, the BPI and the British Government, may have signalled the music industry had won, there are already cracks showing in the agreement.
According to PC Pro, Carphone Warehouse specifically, has made it clear that it would walk out on any deal which saw its customers’ broadband connections cut off. A company spokesman said:
The three strikes approach we’ve 100% ruled out. We won’t have anything to do with that. We will not disconnect or threaten to disconnect our customers. We will not divulge details of our customers to people like the BPI unless we get a specific court order to do so.
What we have agreed to do is to write to our customers and advise them there’s been an alleged infringement. We’re very clear that we don’t know if that’s the case or not, we’ve just been told there has been and we want to advise them of that.
The BPI, and the music industry may have won a small battle in getting 6 of the biggest ISPs on board for its ‘campaign of education’, but they haven’t won the war in trying to get all illegal file-sharers disconnected from the Internet. Carphone Warephone, and I would hope, other ISPs as well, have said “enough is enough, that’s as far as we’ll go.”