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Virgin begins anti-sharing offensive

Virgin Media and the BPI are to begin sending warning letters to Virgin broadband subscribers who they allege have been illegally sharing music files.

Confirming plans announced in March, Virgin will send accused customers two letters, its own and one penned by the BPI. The content of the "informative" letters has not been disclosed

The offending account will be identified on the basis of information supplied to Virgin by the BPI. No personal information will be sent back to the UK music trade group.

According to BPI figures, around six and a half million consumer broadband accounts are used to download music using p2p software such as Limewire, and in many cases the account holder is unaware, according to BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor.

"Education is absolutely key to reducing the extent of illegal downloading," he said. "We believe that new partnerships with ISPs can help build an internet in which music is properly valued. That will benefit not just musicians, songwriters and labels, but all internet users who love music. This joint campaign with Virgin Media is the first step towards achieving that goal."

A Virgin spokesman said, "We want people to enjoy music online without infringing the rights of musicians and music companies. This campaign is about helping our customers understand how they can do this."

But the ISP is not yet threatening to disconnect persistent sharers, though it will warn them that this is a possibility.

The BPI is among a number of music industry bodies pressing all ISPs to follow suit. The UK government has warned that unless they do take voluntary action, it will legislate.

Business minister Shriti Vadera urged other ISPs to follow Virgin's lead.

"This is a very welcome first step by Virgin and the BPI to educate consumers about unlawful file sharing, which damages our vibrant creative economy."

Becky Hogge, executive director of the Open Rights Group said that she welcomes Virgin's commitment not to disconnect its customers, but threatening music fans and internet users still doesn't look like a good way to make money for musicians. She also believes such action will drive p2p users underground.

"A hard core of dedicated illicit file-sharers will instantly route around any IP sniffing that goes on by using encryption. Then they'll develop tools for less tech-savvy users to take advantage of encryption. And then we'll be back where we started."

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