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Credit card squeeze looms for pirate music sites

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It isn't just Wikileaks that's being squeezed by credit card companies - pirate music sites are also feeling the pinch.

The UK has spawned more digital music services than any other country, but it's still easy and risk-free to pick up unlicensed music. So after years of unsuccessfully trying to modify our behaviour, and being obliged to play whack-a-mole with pirates in the courts, copyright enforcement forces are going for the wallet.

The City of London police say they will now be notifying Visa and Mastercard and their banks of persistent infringers, to try and prevent pirate sites getting card payment facilities. The initiative is at the request of IFPI, the global sound recording lobby group.

You can argue that all unlicensed sites are parasitic - they don't put anything back to the artists. Many don't ask the downloader for money - they support themselves via the ubiquitous crack whore advertising webcam 1:1s, or agencies offering "Russian brides". Lovely. But a few others, such as MP3fiesta or legalsounds.com are pay sites, actively soliciting your credit card payments. The latter offers music for nine cents a song and albums for 90 cents (55p).

There's a catch. They don't pay anything back to the creators, even though money has changed hands - so it's hard to think of anything that better defines "parasitic". (In the case of sites based Russia, because it's outside the copyright system, there are no reciprocal arrangements, so royalties never reach the talent.)

Mastercard said last year it was willing to take a "proactive" approach to infringers. Cyber-locker sites such as Rapidshare, Megaupload and Hotfile are the music enforcement agencies' biggest concern.

These currently offer a "premium" (faster) option via payment services such as PayPal and Moneybookers, and while PayPal has listed Rapidshare as a rogue site in the past, it seems to have relented. For such lockers, PayPal looks a lot like a single point of failure. ®

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