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BPI and ISPs Agree to challenge P2P Piracy in the UK
July 24, 2008
Thomas Mennecke
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This time, the music industry is for real! The BPI, 6 UK ISPs, OFCOM (an independent telco regulatory organization) and the UK Government have gathered together and forged a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU - Annex "D") which will bind the four entities together in a common effort to significantly reduce the level of P2P piracy in the United Kingdom.

That's a bold plan, and one that the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) has been attempting to pursue on its own for the better part of P2P's history. It's no secret the BPI has attempted to enforce its member's copyrights against alleged P2P pirates, however, after nearly 10 years of file-sharing ubiquity, progress and success have been difficult to measure.

Let's roll the clock backwards for a few minutes. The last measurable calculation of the P2P community by both the IFPI and Big Champagne estimated a population of approximately 10 million users. That's just about the same number that existed during the days of FastTrack, WinMX, and BearShare. True enough, the P2P population has stagnated over the last 2-3 years. But this only tells half the story.

There is a very independent distinction to be made between the P2P population and the BitTorrent population - a separation that is typically not mentioned when pro-copyright enforcers tout their "success" over illicit file-sharing. While indeed the P2P population hasn't moved much over the course of the last several years, the BitTorrent population has. The file-sharing community has seen one of the most remarkable population shifts since the loss of Napster, as a majority has left the original P2P networks in exchange for BitTorrent.

To give a low ball estimate of the current file-sharing population, consider the approximate 10 million individuals sharing over the older generation of communities such as LimeWire, Ares Galaxy, the remnants of FastTrack, WinMX, and so on. If we also consider the population of The Pirate bay, which boasts over 10 million individuals, this supposed stagnation over the last 3 years suddenly becomes a very impressive population explosion. It's also worthy to note that The Pirate Bay isn't the only or largest BitTorrent community.

So while it's a nice thought to believe the file-sharing community has somehow been "contained", and that online music stores have impressed the P2P and BitTorrent communities, the reality of the situation suggests otherwise. The music industry, which has been seen its bottom line bottom out, is fighting for its very survival as the transition to the digital age has left many to ponder what the value of a CD is.

The BPI and the remaining entertainment industry are also asking the same question, and are struggling to find an answer. The key to their success is to drastically reduce the level of unauthorized file-sharing, a task that has remained elusive at best. The BPI and the entertainment industry hope, however, that they can enlist the help of the ISPs to stem the nearly unfettered growth of file-sharing. How will they accomplish this?

The MOU signed by all four entities sets out a bold goal: “All parties agree that the objective of this MOU is to achieve within 2 to 3 years a significant reduction in the incidence of copyright infringement as a result of peer to peer file-sharing and a change in popular attitude towards infringement.”

The agreement will tighten the relationship between the BPI and ISPs, something that has been lacking in the past. While the BPI has attempted a similar campaign to the RIAA, the success of their program hasn’t stopped music downloading, MP3 trading, or the slide of CD sales. ISPs have generally been reluctant to divulge their customer’s information, a sticking point that has prevented the entertainment industry from going full throttle. The MOU is a voluntary agreement, however, ISPs have been under pressure to yield to the demands from the entertainment industry – either that or face government intervention. And the ISPs don’t want that.

Instead, the MOU sets up a framework where all sides will attempt to figure out this P2P mess. Initially, the entertainment industry will supply ISPs with evidence of alleged P2P piracy, and OFCOM will send out notification letters. The letters will be warnings only – a far cry from the immediate monetary demand policy of the US music industry. From there, repeat offenders may be considered for litigation.

“In the first instance ISP signatories will each put in place a 3 month trial to send notifications to 1000 subscribers per week identified to them by music rights holders, to agreed levels of evidence, as having been engaged in illicit uploading or downloading… In addition, rights holders will consider prosecuting particularly serious infringers in appropriate cases.”

The entertainment industry has wanted ISPs to become more involved in the fight against unauthorized file-sharing when it became apparent that suing P2P developers or users isn’t living up to expectations. It’s believed the ISPs may hold the key to success. Will filtering work? Will repetitive letters force parents to lock down their children’s PCs? Will the prosecution of repeat offenders get the message across?

Or will file-sharing networks simply adapt to yet another temporary obstacle? Expect the US entertainment industry to watch this development very carefully.

This story is filed in these Slyck News categories
File-Sharing/P2P Related :: International

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