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UK music biz tackles Nominet over domain nobbling

Is the BPI preparing a US-style MP3 clampdown?

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The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) - the UK's answer to the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) - may be planning an all-out assault on websites that allow copyrighted tracks to be downloaded.

In minutes of a recent meeting of Nominet's Public Advisory Board (PAB), it was revealed the company in charge of the UK's domain registry had been approached several times by the BPI seeking to enforce correct domain details - essential if a prosecution is to be brought.

At the meeting, held on 6 August, Nominet's communications executive, Gareth Cook, revealed that the BPI has contacted him "and wanted Nominet to make it mandatory for all tag holders to register the correct contact details for their registrants, and to make it part of the Tag Holder Agreement".

The organisation then wanted "Nominet to police this and take action where there was incorrect data".

Essentially, this would mean that every domain's details would be checked and people giving false details such 123@456.com or 10 Downing St., etc would automatically lose the website. One of the PAB's members, Clive Feather, also admitted being contacted by the same person - Jollyon Benn of the BPI's Internet Investigation Team. Mr Feather met with Mr Benn, and said that the BPI man wanted to give a presentation of his proposal to the PAB.

Mr Feather refused to discuss any detail of the meeting when we contacted him, but Mr Benn later told us that he had only discussed the best ways with which he could put his point across to Nominet. The BPI has been asked instead to submit a paper for the next PAB meeting in a month's time.

So is the BPI going to force Nominet to police all UK domain account details and then embark on a mass prosecution spree?

It might do if it had half a chance. Eleanor Bradley, Nominet's director of operations, told us that Nominet will not put itself into the position where it has to actively police several million domain names. Besides, she explained, it isn't needed since there is already such a system in place - it's just that the BPI doesn't appear to be aware of it.

"We do have the power to cancel a domain if the details given on the Whois are grossly inaccurate," she explained. "If we cannot contact the registrant, we can cancel the domain." This being Britain and Nominet though, we play fair. "If we have a complaint against a domain, we will attempt to put the owner on notice and give them a period of 14 to 28 days to respond. After that we can suspend or cancel the name. We have and will continue to cancel domains."

She also explained that Nominet will release contact details for a particular domain if someone is wishing to issue legal proceedings against the owner. What it will not do though is actively police its domains and or define what can be considered an abuse of the system. "We are not qualified to make that decision," she said.

So what does the BPI make of all this? Well, Mr Benn is far less militant than his American counterparts. In fact, as has often happened in the past when the RIAA has gone for a particularly tough course, the pressure to try the same thing in the UK has come from the US.

With reference to the attempt to force Nominet to make sure Whois details are accurate, Benn told us: "It is not something that is impeding what we are trying to achieve. The Americans asked us to look at it. It's nice to say that we've spoken to Nominet but in reality we can track back websites to their ISP and take it up with them."

And in that pleasant British way that we like to do things, Benn explained that its approach is based far more on working together than on forcing your will. "For some time, the cardinal rule in our relationship with ISPs has been to alert them to some evidence of copyright infringement, say what we've found and what date we found it. It does a lot of good if they register the fact that it is them losing out [in terms of bandwidth and other costs associated with high downloads], and it makes them feel part of the process."

He does admit that it is "rather frustrating" that Whois details on sites offering illegal downloads are frequently incorrect and says it is an area they are working on and finding ways of getting round it.

So if you are offering copyrighted material on a website, it doesn't mean you won't be nicked and fined for it, but it does mean that your downfall will have come in an atmosphere of consensus. Which is nice. ®

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