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BT Threatens to Cut-Off Illegal Music Downloaders
By: MarkJ - 27 June, 2008 (9:10 AM)

BT has followed Virgin Media's (original news) lead by teaming up with the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) to help fight online music piracy. Customers found to have been involved in illegal downloading will now be issued with warning letters, threatening them with being cut-off from the net unless their activity ceases.

Reports indicate that at least one of the operators four million customers has already received such a message, which included the warning, details of what had been downloaded (a song 'Biology' by Girls Aloud) and evidence of the download itself (P2P program used, timestamps, a file name and IP number):

BT's letter, from a member of its "Customer Security Team" states: "I have received a complaint regarding one of our customers offering copyrighted material over the internet. On investigation, I have found that your account was used to make this offer."

The BT letter goes on to threaten that if the customer continues to fileshare illegally, her broadband account will be shut down: "Sorry, but we're obliged to point out that further similar problems may have to lead to the termination of your account, as such activity contravenes BT's Acceptable Use Policy." It recommends that she ensure her Wi-Fi connection is secure, remove all filesharing software from her computer, and pass the warning on to the rest of her household.

In the BPI letter forwarded to the customer by BT, the trade body says it will look out for further illegal filesharing on her account. "If further evidence is obtained of infringement via your internet connection," it writes, "then further action is likely to be taken against you. That action may include litigation against you, as well as the suspension by BT of your internet connection."

The Register has since reproduced BT's letter in full, with related customer details removed - here. It would appear to have a somewhat more aggressive tone than those being used in Virgin Media's "educational" trial of similar warnings. This is in close keeping with the BPI's recently proposed "three-strikes" system, which we outlined in our 'To Ban or Not to Ban (Illegal File Sharers)' article earlier this year.

However, to compensate for this the music industry has been secretly working with larger UK ISPs to introduce some form of licensed music downloading scheme (original news). It's believed that the new system, which could see some broadband providers offering a legal file-sharing service to music fans, may be available by the end of this year:

No deals have been signed yet and significant details have yet to be addressed. These include the royalty share between mechanical, sound recording and publishing rights holders, and administration issues. A significant amount of music released has never been licensed digitally - so should a music service provider ignore it, or attempt to pay the owners? As for price, this will be determined by the ISPs. However, sources are confident that Q4 2008 or Q1 2009 will see such the first of these offered to the public.

Details remain sketchy, though it's understood that such a service would track the popularity of music file exchanges between customers and reward rights holders accordingly. However, to be effective the music industry would need to make sure that all UK ISPs have access to its deal, not just the largest players.

There's little doubt that this is a radical proposal and one that has the capacity to completely reshape how broadband users both download, access and listen to music. It would also give ISPs another useful revenue source without having to worry about the legal drama.

Presently the proposals only appear to be targeting music files, though if it were to prove successful then one could imagine it being extended to other media, such as movies and possibly even games. Still, to truly succeed it will need the support of broadband consumers and to do that requires attractive pricing.

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