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Virgin Media Issues Warning Letters to 800 Illegal Downloaders
By: MarkJ - 03 July, 2008 (1:37 PM)

Virgin Media has reportedly issued the first batch of roughly 800 "educational" warning letters to broadband customers that have been identified as having illegal file-sharing (P2P) activity on their accounts. The move was originally announced during early June (news) and is part of a voluntary agreement with the British Phonographic [MUSIC] Industry (BPI).

The BPI has confirmed to BBC News Online that thousands more letters will be sent during the 10 week trial, which will be reviewed during mid-August. Virgin Media stresses that customers will only be warned about their activity and not threatened with account suspension.

However, the wording on its initial envelopes appear to threaten customers with disconnection, though Virgin claims this to be a "mistake". Typically the BPI would still prefer Virgin to use tougher language:

BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor told BBC News that the body was prepared to back up the education campaign with legal action, including taking ISPs to court. "If we have to go to court, we will go to court and we will win," he said.

One customer who received a letter told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat programme that he was unhappy with Virgin Media. Will McGree received a letter in June, warning him that legal action could be taken against him.

He said no-one in his flat had been file-sharing and that it was possible someone had accessed his wireless network from outside the building. Becky Hogge, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said the letters were a disproportionate response from the music industry. "We need to protect users from punitive measures," she said.

Meanwhile some ISPs, such as The Carphone Warehouse, have refused to take part in the BPI's scheme and Tiscali recently ran into disagreements with them over a similar system. The BPI has warned that ISPs refusing to join a voluntary scheme could ultimately face court action and or mandatory government legislation.

Though Virgin Media is currently the only provider to officially team up with the BPI, BT are also now known to be running a virtually identical scheme (news). It's worth pointing out that the warning system does not just target heavy file-sharing abuse, in fact the initial report suggests that those found to have been sharing even just one music track could be targeted.

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