Virgin Media Playing Big Brother

The British equivalent of the RIAA is making moves that would make its American counterpart proud. The British Phonographic Industry, (BPI) who represents the British recording and music companies, is working with Virgin Media to stem the illegal distribution of music files.

The way they're doing it is a bit gentler than the RIAA approach of suing first, asking questions later.

Virgin Media sent out 800 warning letters to customers whose ISP accounts were used illegally for file-sharing, as part of an "education" campaign between the BPI and Virgin Media. Virgin wants to encourage people to download music on its network, but do it legitimately without sharing.

160pxcomputerbluesvg According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter, the letters were pretty serious in nature. The envelope said, "Important. If you don't read this, your broadband could be disconnected." Inside, the letter signed by the CEO of the BPI says, "We're writing to you about enjoying music on the internet and about illegal downloading and file-sharing. It's an issue which affects you, so it's very important that you read this letter carefully."

However, another report in ARS Technica stated:
"While the BPI told the BBC that it's prepared to back up the "education" campaign with legal action, Virgin described the threat as a mistake, and said the wording would be reviewed in August. Furthermore, Virgin told the BBC Newsbeat that there was "absolutely no possibility" of legal action being taken against users as part of the current campaign, and that it wouldn't hand over user information "under any circumstances." It sounds like Virgin didn't fully realize what it was getting into when it hopped into bed with the BPI last month.

Recipients of the letters haven't reacted well, either - for many, the letters came out of the blue and, as far as they were aware, they had not shared any files. Virgin spokesperson Asam Ahmad even admitted that the users receiving the letters may not be personally responsible for file sharing. "It is important to let our customers know that their accounts have been used in a certain way but we are happy to accept it may not be the account holder that's involved," he said. "It could be someone else in the family or someone living in a shared house. It could even be someone stealing WiFi. We are not making any form of accusation."

Internet Service Providers are being pressured in Britain to help fight file-sharing, and this is a very good first step. Let's hope Virgin can help keep music downloads legit in Great Brit. -Leslie Shapiro

Via The Hollywood Reporter and ARS Technica