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Virgin Media and BPI join forces to attack illegal filesharing

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Virgin Media will launch a campaign against illegal downloading next week, when it’ll begin firing off warning letters to subscribers the BPI believes are sharing copyright music files.

The move is being billed by the cable firm as an “education campaign”. At this stage there will be no “three strikes” process; customers who continue to fileshare illegally will not be disconnected.

Accounts identified as being used for illegal music sharing by the record industry will receive two letters: one from Virgin Media and one from the BPI. Investigators will monitor copyright-infringing BitTorrent swarms and log Virgin Media IP addresses, which will be passed on to the ISP to identify the customers.

Virgin Media will distribute both letters, and no personally identifiable information will be disclosed to the BPI.

The letters will include advice on “how to prevent account misuse”, “avoid the risk of legal action”, and warn customers that peer to peer networks carry “increased threats from viruses and spyware”, a Virgin Media statement said. You can read the Virgin Media letter here and the BPI letter here (PDFs).

The campaign will run as a trial for a flexible period of about two months. Its effect on behaviour will then be reviewed. Virgin Media claims a lot of account holders may not be aware their kids or others are using their line to download music illegally, for example via an unsecured Wi-Fi network.

The BPI has been pushing for enforcement alongside education, but Virgin Media said it was unwilling to disconnect customers who don’t stop accessing illegal music. A spokesman said today: “It’s a bit of a judgement call for us to be making threats of disconnection or account suspension. We weren’t willing to do that.”

“There are now so many lawful cheap and free music services out there that we believe an education campaign in partnership with the BPI is the best way forward.”

The ISP industry is under enormous government pressure to cut a deal with the record industry following a successful lobbying campaign by the BPI. Ministers have vowed to introduce anti-filesharing legislation if a self-regulatory solution is not found.

The BPI has recently begun threatening ISPs with court injunctions if they do not agree to act against illegal filesharers. One such threat sent to Carphone Warehouse received short shrift from the firm’s bosses, who said they would never disconnect their customers and that they didn’t believe legislation will be brought forward.

Virgin Media appears to have taken a less confrontational approach to its dealings with the record industry. Although the “education campaign” is toothless in this first trial phase, getting a major ISP to publicly adopt a role in battling illegal downloading is a big win for the BPI.

Its chief executive Geoff Taylor said in a statement: “Education is absolutely key to reducing the extent of illegal downloading... this joint campaign with Virgin Media is the first step towards achieving that goal.” A survey commissioned by the record industry earlier this year claimed most illegal downloaders would stop if warned.

The BPI struck a deal with Tiscali to implement a full three strikes last year. Four out of 21 warned account holders ended up disconnected from the internet. The deal fell apart however in a row over who should pay for the process. ®

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