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Sunday, 30 March 2008

BPI, Virgin to pilot "warning" scheme for downloaders

According to today's Telegraph, internet service provider and telecom company Virgin Media looks set to become the first UK internet company to crack down on subscribers who download music illegally. While record labels are lobbying for a "three strikes" regime that would see those who collect pirated material disconnected from the internet, Virgin has been working with music trade body BPI on a pilot project which could see "dozens of customers" sent warning letters.

Right: Virgin's Richard Branson -- is he pleading not to be cut off?

This trial will go live within months, with the threat (or "option") of disconnecting customers who ignore the warnings. The trial is also open to film and television studios. Says the Telegraph:

"This would be the first time a British internet company has publicly moved to share responsibility for curbing piracy. Two years of negotiations between record labels and internet service providers (ISPs) have so far failed to produce an industry-wide agreement.

A spokesman for Virgin Media said: "We have been in discussions with rights holders organisations about how a voluntary scheme could work. We are taking this problem seriously and would favour a sensible voluntary solution."

The BPI has teams of technicians to trace illegal music downloading to individual accounts. It will hand these account numbers over to Virgin Media, which will match them to names and addresses".
In February the UK government said it would implement legislation by April 2009 unless ISPs came to a voluntary agreement with the music and film industries. According to industry sources, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is due to publish a consultation paper next month, outlining legal measures.

Says the IPKat, getting in with a consensual arrangement ahead of any legislative initiative will keep Virgin in the recording industries' good books, but is unlikely to stave off pressure for legislative intervention unless (i) the pilot works, (ii) it is adopted as a sectoral norm by all the other ISPs and (iii) does not raise suspicions within the European Commission that there exists any hidden market-sensitive agenda that will distort or reduce competition between ISPs or upstream or downstream of them. Merpel adds: Virgin's own slightly risquee, devil-may-care, young-and-attractive image may the main victim of this initiative -- it all depends on how carefully Virgin's publicity people spin it.

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