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Retreat on suspension of net access

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Divisions inside the music business have prompted its umbrella trade organisation to issue a statement today denying any serious rift, while dodging the issue of whether it will urge the government to cut off persistent pirates from the net.

The ructions were provoked by last week's statement from the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), a group of managers and big-selling artists including Radiohead, Billy Bragg and davefromblur. The FAC was sharply critical of Lord Mandelson's proposed anti-copyright infringement measures, especially suspension of internet access.

"We vehemently oppose the proposals being made and suggest that the stick is now in danger of being way out of proportion to the carrot," it said.

Mandelson had shocked many by resurrecting suspension proposals halfway through his department's consultation.

If the criticism had come from FAC acting alone, UK Music would not have been obliged to take much notice.

UK Music was formed last year in an attempt to give a single voice to the industry on public policy issues (a role previously dominated by the BPI, long considered by many in a diverse industry of publishers, composers, small labels, artists and managers to speak mostly for the four major labels). But the FAC isn't a member of UK Music.

As we noted, however, the FAC's statement was strangely cosigned by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), which is a member. It had previously been a vocal advocate of enforcement measures against illegal filesharing.

So today's UK Music statement apparently seeks to bring BASCA back into the fold but omits previous overt support for cutting off the most persistent illegal filesharers.

"Tackling the issue of unlicensed P2P file-sharing is critical to this future, as well as enabling a commercial environment where sustainable, licensed digital services can prosper. Services that will benefit creators, investors and consumers alike," it said.

"UK Music would like to clarify that all our members remain committed to supporting proposals that will benefit the future growth and sustainability of our commercial music industry."

"We believe that Government intervention is extremely welcome and that, subject to assessment, Ofcom should be granted appropriate and proportionate powers as directed by the Secretary of State. The purpose of these powers is to encourage users of unlicensed P2P networks towards existing and future digital music services."

There is no mention of specific enforcement measures in the statement. The group's chief executive Feargal Sharkey said it will submit a settled view on the process it would like before the consultation closes at the end of the month.

Back in June, UK Music suggested that on their third warning, illegal filesharers should be cut off for 72 hours, for a month on their fourth warning, and on their fifth for two months. So today's statement marks a significant retreat, although it may be only temporary. ®

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