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Musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd-Webber has railed against ISPs in the House of Lords for profiting from internet piracy, and urged the government to clamp down hard.

In a debate on Thursday, Lloyd-Webber claimed the government's proposed regime to discourage illegal file-sharing will not achieve its aim of reducing such activity by 70 per cent by 2012. "Proposing to legislate to require ISPs merely to write to infringers and leave rights-holders with the near impossible, deeply expensive and hugely unpopular task of suing those who persist is simply not going to produce the required deterrent effect," he said.

Communications minister Lord Carter's Digital Britain report, published in February, suggested ISPs should collect and share data on copyright infringement so warning could be issued by rights holders. It stopped short of agreeing to the record industry's desired "three strikes" regime, whereby repeat infringers would be cut off from the internet.

Lloyd-Webber contrasted BT's 2007 profit of £5.78bn with the shrinkage of the entire UK record industry to an annual turnover of less than £1bn.

He was backed by former BBC director general John Birt, now chairman of EMI's holding company, who agreed ISPs should be "regulated and licensed". He however conceded the record industry "has been slower than most to reinvent itself" in response to the rise of the internet and broadband.

Speaking for the government, Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills minister Lord Young said the work continued on the "Rights Agency", a quango Carter envisaged as a forum for cooperation between rights holders and ISPs. He did not directly address calls for stringent regulation of ISPs.

Lloyd-Webber said he "had no real answers" to the question of how to reduce piracy. Conservative Lord Luke namechecked Spotify, the recently-popular on-demand music streaming service, as an example of how compelling legal alternatives were an essential part of the solution. "To sit back and do nothing while online piracy sucks the profitability out of such a productive sector at any time would clearly be irresponsible," he said.

A recent attempt at direct commercial cooperation between the record and ISP industries failed however, when negotiations for a legal music sharing service for Virgin Media customers collapsed.

Lloyd-Webber said investment in higher speed broadband networks should be delayed until "there is a sustainable commercial arrangement for those creative works on which these new networks depend", suggesting unregulated higher bandwidth would mean the film industry would suffer the same fate as the record business.

A transcript of the debate begins here. ®

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