As we noted yesterday, one of the fondest dreams of the recording industry is to get Internet service providers to help them police the content flowing across their networks. Now, British ISP Virgin Media has taken a halting step in that general direction by agreeing to work with the BPI, the UK equivalent of the RIAA which represents the interests of the recording industry in that country. The agreement will have Virgin sending out warning letters to those who the BPI has identified as sharing copyrighted material.
Early reports of the negotiations between Virgin Media and the BPI had suggested that the ISP was considering adopting a draconian "three strikes and you're out" policy, in which it would disconnect repeat offenders. That approach, however, has since found limited support in the European Parliament, although the UK Parliament is apparently considering legislation that would compel its implementation. For now, however, the two organizations will apparently settle for sending potential infringers nastygrams.
The Register claims to have obtained samples of the letters that will be sent by Virgin and the BPI (both PDFs), and the possibility of disconnects is only mentioned obliquely; the BPI letter simply indicates, "We donâ€™t want you to face legal action or risk losing your internet service." Most of the threats focus on legal action, but the majority of the text of both letters is appropriate for an educational campaign. The BPI's chief executive stated, "Education is absolutely key to reducing the extent of illegal downloading, and we are pleased to be working with Virgin Media on this campaign" in announcing the program.
The letters point out the differences between legal music purchases and copyright violations through file-sharing. They also assume that users may not be aware that file-sharing is happening down their connection, suggesting that files may be shared through malware or by someone hopping on to an unsecured wireless router. Both organizations offer the recipients access to antivirus and the other security software they host.
Given the relatively mild nature of the letters, the implications of the program are probably more important than the actions it entails. The program suggests that at least some ISPs are beginning to take action on file-sharing that's not directly related to the network congestion it involves. Perhaps more importantly, it may lay the groundwork for the record industry to claim that education alone isn't sufficient should the program have a negligible impact on file-sharing at Virgin. That could provide them exactly what they need to push through the harsher legislation being considered.
Of course, the entire program relies on the recording industry's ability to accurately identify file-sharers. No word yet on how the letters will be delivered to misidentified printers.