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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 20:25 GMT
Illegal downloaders 'face UK ban'
Music on computer
The entertainment industry says illegal file sharing costs it millions
People in the UK who go online and illegally download music and films may have their internet access cut under plans the government is considering.

A draft consultation suggests internet service providers would be required to take action over users who access pirated material via their accounts.

But the government is stressing that plans are at an early stage and it is still working on final proposals.

Six million people a year are estimated to download files illegally in the UK.

Music and film companies say that the illegal downloads cost them millions of pounds in lost revenues.

Dot.Life blog graphic, BBC
If the law were enacted it would turn ISPs, like BT, Tiscali and Virgin, into a pro-active net police force
Darren Waters, technology editor BBC News website

The government proposals were first reported by the Times newspaper.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that early drafts of the document had been circulated among stakeholders.

"The content and proposals for the strategy have been significantly developed since then and a comprehensive plan to bolster the UK's creative industries will be published shortly," it added.

"We will not comment on the content of the leaked document."

Voluntary scheme

The Times suggested that broadband firms which failed to enforce the rules could be prosecuted, and the details of customers suspected of making illegal downloads made available to the courts.

According to the Times, the draft paper states: "We will move to legislate to require internet service providers to take action on illegal file sharing."

Internet providers are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the Post Office is able to open every envelope,
Internet Service Providers Association

Some of the UK's biggest internet providers, such as BT, Virgin and Tiscali have been in talks with the entertainment industry over introducing a voluntary scheme for policing pirate activity, but no agreement has been reached.

So far, they have failed to resolve how disputed allegations would be arbitrated - for example, when customers claim other people have been "piggybacking" on their internet service.

'No liability'

Technology that allows internet providers to monitor what content is being downloaded is becoming more effective, said James Bates, media director at consultants Deloitte.

"This is also likely to help accelerate the process of identifying pirates, and may lead to swifter disconnection, or prosecution," Mr Bates said.

However, the Internet Service Providers Association said data protection laws would prevent providers from looking at the content of information sent over their networks.

Isn't it strange that when corporations start losing money the Government acts quickly to stamp it out
Jon Perez, Reading

"ISPs are no more able to inspect and filter every single packet passing across their network than the Post Office is able to open every envelope," the association said.

"ISPs bear no liability for illegal file sharing as the content is not hosted on their servers," it added.

The BPI, the trade body that represents the UK record industry, said internet providers had "done little or nothing to address illegal downloading via their networks".

"This is the number one issue for the creative industries in the digital age, and the government's willingness to tackle it should be applauded," said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor.

"Now is not the time for ISPs to hide behind bogus privacy arguments, or claim the problem is too complicated or difficult to tackle."

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