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UPDATE BPI Claims UK ISP BT Failed to Tackle 100000 Illegal Downloaders

Posted: 28th Sep, 2009 By: MarkJ
pirate flagThe British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has called BT "shameful" after revealing that the operator had done nothing to stop thousands of illegal music file sharers on its service. The BPI claims to have collected the IP addresses of 100,000 BT Broadband ISP customers that are suspected of involvement with the activity.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of BPI, said:

“It’s shameful for a company like BT to know that a high percentage of the traffic it carries is illegal material but do nothing. If you operate a commercial service and know it is being used to break the law, taking steps to ensure it is used legally is a cost of doing business. This is just about BT protecting profits.”

The BPI's claim, which was reported by The Mirror, comes only days after BT blasted the excessive cost of tackling illegal users. The operator warned that the high costs involved with tackling piracy could result in customers having to pay an extra £2 per month (£24 per year) on their broadband bills (original news).

John Petter, BT's consumer division boss, said last week:

"[THE CREATIVE INDUSTRY] have lobbied hard and very effectively but that doesn’t make them right. Their claims are melodramatic and assume people would buy all the music that is illegally downloaded, which is nonsense. Laws already exist to enable music companies and other copyright holders to prosecute offenders but they don’t want to take the hit to their public image."

Law firms currently track suspected illegal P2P activity by monitoring IP addresses, which is known to be highly unreliable. These addresses are assigned to every computer when you go online, yet IP's can easily be spoofed, redirected, shared (internet cafe, businesses etc.) or even hijacked (open Wi-Fi networks). The download itself could also be encrypted, making it nearly impossible for the ISP to verify.

BT has since moved to defend itself, with a spokesman informing the paper that: "To investigate the exact nature of each case would involve an intrusive level of inspection of people's traffic and customers would rightly complain." He added that peer to peer file sharing (P2P) itself was not illegal.

Indeed BT is correct, there are many legal uses for P2P, such as deploying software updates, Microsoft's XBox360 LIVE multiplayer gaming service, World of Warcraft, the BBC iPlayer and the list goes on. The very principal of P2P is what underpins many of the methods for exchanging information over the Internet.

It’s also difficult to see how even a big ISP like BT could find enough manpower to effectively investigate each of the 100,000 reported cases. On the other hand, BT did signup to the original ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) between the UK’s six largest ISPs and the music industry last year (here).

This MoU agreed to the principal of sending warning letters to those “suspected” of involvement with illegal downloads. However the BPI claims that BT has not acted upon its information, which suggests that the operator has not even issued any warnings.

UPDATE - 7:06pm

Statement from BT:

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview:

"BT and other ISPs agreed to send 1,000 notifications alleging copyright infringement a week for a 12-week trial period, with BT picking up the bill for this activity for our own customers as an act of goodwill. However, it was understood that at the end of this period, we would need to take stock and have further discussions with the rights holders about costs etc.

During this period, the BPI sent us around 21,000 alleged cases, but less than two-thirds proved to be properly matched to an IP address of a BT customer and not a duplicate, so this could indicate that the true extent of this activity is much lower than the 100,000 number the BPI claim since February. In addition since none of the customers we wrote to during the trial were subsequently taken to court by the BPI, we don't know whether they were actually guilty of infringement.

We definitely do not know the extent of illegal file sharing on our network. Many peer to peer applications are perfectly legal, such as World of Warcraft, BBC iPlayer and Skype. To investigate the exact nature of each peer to peer packet would involve an intrusive level of inspection of people's traffic and customers would rightly complain about BT infringing their privacy where we to do it."

This appears to reinforce the already well know fallibility of relying on IP address data to accurately target known abusers.
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