Customers who illegally share music will get warning letters
Six of the UK's biggest net providers have agreed a plan with the music industry to tackle piracy online.
The deal, negotiated by the government, will see hundreds of thousands of letters sent to net users suspected of illegally sharing music.
Hard core file-sharers could see their broadband connections slowed, under measures proposed by the UK government.
BT, Virgin, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse have all signed up.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, which represents the music industry, said: "All of the major ISPs in the UK now recognise they have a responsibility to deal with illegal file-sharers on their networks."
Mr Taylor said it had taken years to persuade ISPs to adopt this view.
The plan commits the firms to working towards a "significant reduction" in the illegal sharing of music.
It also commits the net firms to develop legal music services. "Conversations are ongoing between record labels and ISPs," said Mr Taylor.
Letters to pirates
The BPI has focused on educational efforts and limited legal action in recent years, in contrast to the US, which has embarked on tens of thousands of lawsuits against alleged file sharers.
The six internet service providers have signed a Memorandum of Understanding drawn up by the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR).
HAVE YOUR SAY
Why should I yet again pay for, say, the Beatles' White Album at full whack? I already bought it on LP, eight-track, cassette, and CD! This is those customers getting their own back
The Motion Picture Association of America has also signed up.
The BPI said the memorandum covered consumers who were both uploading and downloading music.
Mr Taylor said: "The focus is on people sharing files illegally; there is not an acceptable level of file-sharing. Musicians need to be paid like everyone else."
He added: "File-sharing (of copyright tracks without permission) is not anonymous, it is not secret, it is against the law."
At the same time the government has started a consultation exercise that could result in laws that force net firms to tackle music piracy. A working group will be set up under the auspices of regulator Ofcom to look at effective measures to tackle persistent file-sharers.
Mr Taylor said newspaper reports stating that online users could be subject to an annual levy to cover losses from file-sharing were incorrect.
"A levy is not an issue under discussion. It has not been discussed between us and government and as far as we are aware it is not on the table."
He said: "There should be effective mechanisms in place (to deter file-sharing) and as long as they are effective, we don't mind what they are."
The consultation document proposed that hard core file-sharers could have technical measures imposed, such as "traffic management or filtering and marking of legitimate content to facilitate identification".
In the past few weeks net firms Virgin and BT have sent letters to some customers identified by the BPI, which represents the UK record industry, as persistent music pirates.
Before now the BPI has called for a "three-strikes" system which would see net connections of persistent pirates terminated if three warnings went ignored.
Many net firms have resisted the call from the BPI and have said it is not their job to act as policemen.
Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of British Music Rights, said the plan was "a first step, and a very big step, in what we all acknowledge is going to be quite a long process".
Mr Sharkey, formerly lead singer with The Undertones added: "Government, particularly in the UK, has now realised there is an issue, there is a problem there."
One BBC News website user Mark, from Hampshire, said he downloaded and shared files illegally and argued customers were "getting their own back".
In an e-mail, he said: "I used to run half a dozen record shops in the 80s and saw how far the fat cats of the record industry would go, in milking customers and retailers dry with more hyped rubbish."
"Why should I yet again pay for, say, the Beatles' White Album at full whack? I already bought it on LP, eight-track, cassette, and CD! This is those customers getting their own back."
"So will this make me sharing a CD with my next-door neighbour over the fence illegal?" he added.