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Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010
File-sharing laws could see downloaders disconnected

Jo Whiley outside Parliament
Jo Whiley found a music industry split over the Digital Economy Bill

Is the computer in your home or office being used to illegally download music, films and TV programmes?

The answer could well be yes.

Over seven million people are unlawfully file-sharing, according to a recent study by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which represents the recorded music business in the UK, costing the industry £200m a year.

To counteract this growing trend, the government is planning a crackdown on internet pirates - if they are caught file-sharing, their internet will be disconnected.

The Digital Economy Bill (DEB) is currently going through Parliament, and if passed, the new law would introduce a system of letter writing, designed to warn and educate people away from copyright infringement.

If you infringe too often, however, it will be easier for the copyright owners, such as record companies, to identify you and prosecute.


After 12 months, the government will consult on whether further "technical measures" are needed.

These could lead to the internet connections of domestic subscribers, businesses, and community providers like libraries and universities being slowed down or even cut off for a time.

It is these measures - broadly supported by the main political parties - that are proving especially controversial.

Billy Bragg
The music industry is thriving, it's the record industry that is dying on its feet
Bill Bragg, musician

In Panorama's "Are the net police coming for you?" radio DJ Jo Whiley looked into the debate and asked whether record companies were right to get this sort of protection for their traditional business model?

"It's just not sustainable for lots of money to be spent developing great creative content and then for it not be paid for.

"Ultimately that would mean the great content dries up which is actually not what the fans want," said Geoff Taylor of the BPI.

The need for a financially strong music industry, which is vital in supporting talent, is a view shared by many in the industry, like X-Factor judge and pop mogul Louis Walsh.

"They need a record company to get them on the radio, to get them on TV. Whatever kind of music they need the big machine," said Walsh.

Digital changes

But not everybody in the music industry is singing from the same hymn sheet.

File-sharing can be viewed as a way of spreading a band's name and establishing a fan base.

An online survey of those aged 16-50 by the think tank Demos, found that those who admitted to unlawfully file-sharing music spend £77 per year on music, this compares to an average of £44 for all net users in that age group

"Things are changing whether we like it or not as the digital music industry is being born," singer Billy Bragg said.

"More kids are listening to music than ever before, the other side of this is that actually the music industry is thriving, it's the record industry that is dying on its feet."

If people are going to find their internet is cut off... then they will move immediately to systems where it's not possible to find out who they are
Dr Richard Clayton, security expert

Now the government is stepping in to the argument and hoping that the DEB will break our online habit of swapping songs, films and videos for free.

"The creative industries are being undermined by substantial lost revenue through unlawful access at the moment that can't go on, that's the problem that the bill addresses," Stephen Timms, the minister for Digital Britain, told Panorama.

"What the bill will require is that people use their broadband responsibly and just as you know if you are using electricity you need to use it lawfully, it will also be so with broadband," he said.

Price hikes

But the bill could see the price of broadband rise.

Research commissioned by the BPI claims bills would go up by under £1 per year while the government estimates it would cost £2.40. But British Telecom, an internet service provider, claims the price rise could be as much as £25 to cover the costs of letter writing, monitoring and enforcing any technical measures.

The government has estimated that software which blocks your internet connection from accessing certain peer to peer sites is about £30.

Together these sums could see over one million households deterred from taking up broadband according to figures seen by Panorama, despite the government also working to hit its target of 90% of homes and businesses having a faster internet connection by 2017.

The offer of wireless access to the net in public spaces such as hotels and libraries is another area of contention.

Those that provide this service are concerned that their systems could be open to abuse.

Unprotected wi-fi systems can leave the registered owners particularly vulnerable to those who might use wi-fi to download copyright material illegally and the bill as it stands provides no exemption for them.

Ethernet plug, SPL
The bill includes an appeals process for those wrongly accused

Supporters of the bill believe it includes a safety net to deal this situation.

Geoff Taylor, of the BPI said: "There will be a full appeals process put in place to make sure that in the very unlikely event that somebody was wrongly identified that that can be dealt with in a proper way ultimately before a court."

Some computer industry experts believe the bill is unworkable and that determined file-sharers will be able to avoid detection by using file-sharing sites which offer anonymity.

"If people are going to find their internet is cut off, because people can find out who they are, then they will move immediately to systems where it's not possible to find out who they are," said Dr Richard Clayton, a computer security expert at Cambridge University.

The government says that it hopes that the first warnings internet users receive will effectively shut down the mass use of illegal file-sharing.

It says the vast majority of home-owners and businesses need not worry about being disconnected.

But the big question remains - will it be enough to deter the seven million people already classed as pirates?

If not, there may be a nasty surprise for those who get caught in the trawl for the net's illegal downloaders.

Are the net police coming for you? is on Monday 15 March at 2030 GMT on BBC One. Watch again on the BBC iplayer.

How to avoid Britain's net police
Friday, 12 March 2010, 16:28 GMT |  Panorama
File-sharing sanctions 'unfair'
Wednesday, 10 March 2010, 10:39 GMT |  Technology
Lords force online piracy rethink
Friday, 5 March 2010, 11:32 GMT |  Politics
Is it time to defend our rights?
Tuesday, 2 March 2010, 12:14 GMT |  Technology

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