The music industry has opened up a new front in the war on online music piracy, threatening to sue internet service providers that allow customers to illegally share copyrighted tracks over their networks.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said it would take action against internet companies that carry vast amounts of illegally shared files over their networks. It stressed that it would prefer not to pursue such a strategy and is keen to work in partnership with internet providers.
John Kennedy, the chairman of the IFPI, said he had been frustrated by internet companies that have not acted against customers involved in illegal activity. He warned that litigation against ISPs would be instigated "in weeks rather than months". Barney Wragg, the head of EMI's digital music division, said the industry had been left "with no other option" but to pursue ISPs in the courts.
The IFPI wants ISPs to disconnect users who refuse to stop exchanging music files illegally. Kennedy said such activity is in breach of a customer's contract with the ISP and disconnecting offenders the IFPI had identified would significantly reduce illegal file sharing.
Kennedy said talks with internet companies had been ongoing over the past year but no action had been taken. "I realised I was being filibustered ... if they still want to filibuster, their time will run out," he said.
The IFPI took legal action against 10,000 individuals in 18 countries during 2006. More significantly it won a spate of significant legal victories against peer-to-peer platforms such as Kazaa that was forced to pay a US$115 million ($166 million) settlement.
A spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association said ISPs were "mere conduits of information" that can not be held liable for offences committed by customers. "ISPs cannot inspect every packet of data transmitted over their networks," he said.
Geoff Taylor, the executive vice-president and general counsel of IFPI, said that ISPs are in the best position to stop copyright infringements. "While it might be possible to argue that an ISP is exempt from liability for damages, that does not mean rights holders can't obtain an injunction to stop infringements of their copyright," he said.
A spokeswoman for Tiscali, a UK ISP, said the onus is on the IFPI to prove that the user is engaged in illegal activity and that the music organisation should share the cost of resolving disputes.
During 2006, global digital music sales doubled to about US$2 billion on the back of an 89 per cent surge in music downloads to 795 million.
The success of the digital music market has been underlined by bands like Koopa which is expected to score a Top 40 hit this week despite having no record label nor any physical copies of their CD on sale.