U.K. music industry targets illegal file sharers

The British music industry is following its U.S. counterparts' example in taking a hard line against individuals illegally sharing music online.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the trade group representing U.K. record companies, said Thursday that file sharers could face court action if they continue with their activities, pointing out that illegal file sharing is outlawed under the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.

The announcement comes just days after the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) said that it had fired off its third round of more than 500 lawsuits against individual file swappers believed to be illegally trading music online.

Although the BPI did not say whether it would be launching a legal campaign similar to the "John Doe" suits the RIAA has filed in the U.S. it did say that violators "risk court action." So far this year, the RIAA has filed over 1,500 "John Doe" lawsuits against individuals identified only by their IP (Internet Protocol) addresses for allegedly trading copyright music. The users' ISPs (Internet service providers) were then subpoenaed to reveal the names of the individuals.

The group launched an "instant message" campaign Thursday to warn file sharers of the action they face if they do not disable file sharing software on their computers.

BPI spokesman Matt Phillips said the group is using a software application, or bot, that trolls the Net looking for files that are illegally being made available on users' computers. If users are major "uploaders," the application will send them an instant message warning that they could be violating the law, Phillips said.

Like the RIAA, the BPI's antipiracy campaign targets users of peer-to-peer (P-to-P) networks like Kazaa, which allow users to search the Web for music files and download them onto their computer. While downloading files is not necessarily illegal, sharing those files with others by uploading them to other users is, according to the BPI.

"There is a common misperception that even if you buy music online, it is yours. But if you offer to distribute that music, it is against the law," he said.

The bot employed by BPI identifies users by their IP addresses and that information could theoretically be used as evidence in future lawsuits. However, Phillips said that the industry association is currently in the warning portion of the antipiracy campaign and legal tactics have yet to be hammered out.

"At this stage we haven't made any decisions on legal action but we are saying to those who upload a massive amount of files that what they are doing is illegal," he said. "And those people are very easy to find."

And, according to BPI's latest research, it's in the interest of the record companies to find these infringers. Some 8 million people in the U.K. download music and 92 percent of them, or 7.4 million, use illegal sites, BPI said. There are "no excuses" for this illegal activity, it added, since there are hundreds of thousands of tracks available from legal Internet services in the U.K.

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