UK's illegal downloading crackdown - the facts

Illegal downloaders will soon be receiving warning letters, after the UK music industry reached an agreement with the six main internet service provid

Who will receive warning letters from their ISPs?

The letters will be sent out to those who the music industry and ISPs believe are using file sharing software to illegally share music that is under copyright.

What will the letters threaten?

At present, the letters will merely let you know that big brother is watching you. But there's some support for the three-strikes-and-you're-out law that's currently passing through the French parliament. That means that after three warnings your ISP will disconnect you from the newtork for a year. Obviously, that will only work if all ISPs are signed up to the scheme - which is why today's concerted effort could prove to be significant.

How will they know who's illegally downloading?

The music industry has remained pretty tight-lipped about the technical details, but according to industry spokesperson and former Undertones frontman Fergal Sharkey they will track IP addresses, which are visible within file-sharing software such as LimeWire. Guess those teens will have to find their kicks elsewhere.

What if someone else uses my IP address?

This is potentially one of the flaws in the plan. Letters will be sent to those who pay for the broadband connection, but it could be flatmates, family members or even Wi-Fi hijacking neighbours that are doing the illegal stuff. Expect the number of open networks to diminish quickly.

Can't I mask my IP address anyway?

There are certainly ways to avoid detection, or at least make it harder. But the music industry hopes that rather than pushing downloaders further underground it will stop them from downloading illegally altogther. Of course, that logic didn't work when Napster was first shut down - if they're serious, the industry is going to have to offer something more appealling that 79p-per-track downloads.

How many people will the crackdown affect?

The music industry's trade body, the BPI, reckons around 6m people in the UK share music illegally. But it's unlikely they'll all receive letters at once!

I'm one of the 6million. Should I worry?

Probably not. Without a threat of further action, these letters are relatively meaningless. However, the BPI reckons that over half illegal downloaders will quit if they're warned that what they're doing is wrong. I'm not so sure that's true - some might switch off Limewire for a few weeks, but the lure of free music is bound to be strong.

Should I be angry about the new crackdown?

Only over privacy infringement. There will be a questionmark over how this plan will be implemented, and I would like reassurance that my internet traffic is private. However, the truth is that musicians need to get paid and the online music free-for-all is unsustainable. Hopefully, this is the first step in a radical overhaul of how we buy music.

How does the future of music look?

The music industry is in trouble. CD sales are slumping and legal digital downloads aren't filling the gap. So the industry is beginning to look to the ISPs for revenue. There's a chance we could soon see an annual levy on broadband subscriptions of around £30. This money would go to the rights holders of music that is traded on peer-to-peer, effectively legitimising music sharing rather than penalising it.

But I download music legally - why should I have to pay more for my broadband to support the freetards?

Good question. Hopefully those of us who pay will get something out of it too - like as much free music as our ears can stand. But Apple, Napster and 7digital might have something to say about that.

What do you think? Does the crackdown make sense? Is it better than suing individual downloaders? Or is it a waste of money? Let me know in the comments below.

Related stories:

Legal P2P coming to the UK - adios iTunes?