UK music industry targets illegal file sharers

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

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

The British Phonographic Industry said 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 trading music online illegally.

Although the BPI did not say whether it would launch a legal campaign similar to the "John Doe" suits the RIAA has filed in the US, it did say that violators "risk court action".

So far this year, the RIAA has filed more than 1,500 lawsuits against individuals identified only by their IP addresses for allegedly trading copyright music. The users' ISPs were then subpoenaed to reveal the names of the individuals.

The group launched an "instant message" campaign 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 trawls the net looking for files that are being made available on users' computers illegally. If users are major "uploaders", the application will send them an instant message warning that they could be violating the law.

Like the RIAA, the BPI's antipiracy campaign targets users of P2P networks such as 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.

"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.

"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. "Those people are very easy to find."

According to BPI's latest research, it is in the interest of the record companies to find these infringers. Some eight million people in the UK download music and 92% use illegal sites.

There are no excuses for this illegal activity, because there are hundreds of thousands of tracks available from legal internet services in the UK, the BPI added.

Scarlet Pruitt writes for IDG News Service

Read more on IT legislation and regulation