Education and threats
BT's disconnection threat goes beyond the recent agreement by Virgin Media to partcipate in an "education campaign" with the BPI, which has been lobbying ISPs to help it combat digital piracy. The ongoing effort sees cable subscribers who the BPI identifies as illegal filesharers receive two letters explaining that copyright infringement via peer-to-peer networks is illegal and pressing them to stop. Neither letter explicitly threatens the possibility of disconnection from the internet, however*.
The prospect of disconnection is the record industry's preferred deterrent against internet users sharing copyright music. It has pressed hard for "three strikes" process, and has the support of the UK government to come to a voluntary agreement with ISPs that satisfies both sides.
TalkTalk, the UK's third largest broadband provider behind BT and Virgin media has publicly committed to never disconnecting customers for filesharing. It's known that Virgin Media made it clear during its negotiations with the BPI that it was unwilling to go as far as explicitly threatening disconnections during the trial joint "education campaign".
Sticks and carrots
In a speech last week Geoff Taylor made it clear that the record industry wants to license ISPs. He told an audience of music executives: "The next step is working in partnership with ISPs to develop new music services for UK broadband customers - services that we think could offer even greater value for regular music fans than a la carte purchases... but which still make sense as an economic proposition for the music community.
"Crucially, such services could allow ISPs to increase revenue and reduce churn, by sharing in the value that can be realised from converting illegal filesharers into subscribers to new legal music services."
As our report earlier today showed, that "next step" is already well under way. Music industry sources believe UK consumers could be offered the first legal peer-to-peer services by the end of this year.
One sentence in BT's threatening email is telling: "The BPI has confirmed to us that no record company member of BPI or PPL [the body that deals with radio and other public performance licensing of music] has given permission to an individual to communicate sound recordings to the public via the peer-to-peer network that has been operated using your internet connection." There are no licensed public peer-to-peer networks - yet - so distinguishing Gnutella/BitTorrent as illegal is an odd inclusion in a boilerplate, unless ISP licensing is on its way.
The upcoming commercial opportunity to charge a bit extra for a premium "music broadband" package means there's money for the ISPs in warning their customers against illegal filesharing. Expect sabre-rattling missives like BT's to become commonplace over the next few months. ®
*Of the two letters Virgin Media customers receive only the one signed by the BPI makes a cursory allusion to disconnection. It says: "We don't want you to face legal action or risk losing your internet service - we want you to enjoy music legally."
Click the next page to read BT's disconnection threat in full...
BT sent us this statement on Friday afternoon:
BT has not changed its policy for dealing with copyright infringement and we have not joined any "crusades". We do ask that our customers adhere to our terms and conditions which state that they must comply with all relevant laws and not infringe the rights of others.
We do work with various bodies to help them protect their copyright material and will sometimes pass on warning notices to customers on their behalf where we feel this is appropriate. If a customer continues to be in breach of our terms and conditions then BT has the right to suspend or terminate that customer's account, though we work closely with customers to avoid this where possible.
There may indeed not have been a change in the policy. This incident is however a clear indication that like Virgin Media, BT is is bowing to government pressure to enforce that policy in partnership with the record industry.