UK ISPs get tough over illegal downloads

Six of the UK's largest ISPs are set to announce today that they've signed up to a government-backed initiative that's designed to clamp down on music piracy.

Six of the UK's largest ISPs are set to announce today that they've signed up to a government-backed initiative that's designed to clamp down on music piracy.

The broadband suppliers -- believed to be BT, Virgin, Carphone Warehouse, Orange, Tiscali and Sky -- are expected to reveal details of a memorandum of understanding they've signed with the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) that will result in the ISPs sending warning letters to those suspected of illegally downloading tracks.

The BPI, which represents the UK music industry, has been pushing ISPs to step up efforts to tackle illegal downloads for many years. Music labels claim that free downloads from peer-to-peer services heavily impact sales and want those responsible to be penalised. However, ISPs have been historically protective of their customers when it comes to relinquishing subscriber details to third parties.

"We will not divulge a customer's details or disconnect them on the say-so of the content industry, but we will work with rights holders to develop a sensible and legal approach founded on protecting consumer rights and privacy," said Charles Dunstone, CEO, The Carphone Warehouse.

Under the agreement to be announced today, the ISPs will send out hundreds of thousands of letters to repeat offenders, although it's unclear what steps they would take if customers refuse to stop illegally downloading tracks once they've received the written warning.

One idea that's been suggested is that ISPs implement a 'three strikes and you're out' rule, under which offenders would first be issued with written warnings. If they continued to illegally download tracks, offenders could have their internet access terminated.

Virgin Media has been at the forefront of the move to clamp down on illegal downloads this year. Eight hundred Virgin Media customers received letters warning them about participating in illegal file sharing earlier this month at the start of the company's 10-week campaign to 'educate users' about the dangers of file-sharing.

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