Virgin Media – the ISP and cable TV company formerly known as NTL Telewest – has officially announced a joint venture with the British Phonographic Industry to curb file sharing on their network.
The service provider is implementing a three-tier policy, initially to deal with the sharing of music files where the copyright is owned by BPI members. If successful, the BPI is likely to be joined by other trade bodies who will want to see similar sanctions against sharers of films, TV programmes, and software.
Virgin Media is the first UK ISP to bow to increasing pressure from the film and music industry to police their networks for illegitimate file sharing, but is unlikely to be the last. Even the government is getting in on the act, with guidelines due to be published which will offer ISPs legal sanctions in addition to contract termination.
The monitoring of peer-to-peer activity will be carried out by agents of the BPI, with the trade body handing information about suspicious IP addresses to the ISP. Virgin Media will then send a letter warning customers that naughtiness has been detected on their connection, and would they please stop forthwith. Should this fail to stop the flow of copyright material, a temporary disconnection will prod the errant user into action. If they start torrenting again as soon as their connection is restored, the final sanction is complete termination of their connection.
The only good news for file sharers is the one-way nature of information sharing between Virgin Media and the BPI. The BPI never get any personally identifiable information on customers accused of sharing infringing files, with the name and address associated with the IP never being divulged by the ISP. This means that customers are unlikely to be sued, but that will be little consolation when your account is terminated because your little brother couldn't keep away from those Slipknot downloads.
The agreement between Virgin Media and the BPI is a sign of things to come for Internet service providers and their customers in the UK: I predict that more and more ISPs will join forces with industry groups in voluntary projects like these, if only to stay the threat of legislation – a threat the government is using as a cudgel to encourage the two industries to work things out amongst themselves.
Could this be the future of Internet connectivity, or should the BPI keep their nose out of your downloads? Share your thoughts over in the forums