Virgin, BPI Send Users Piracy Letters In ‘Education Campaign’

Starting next week, Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) will begin sending letters to customers whose IP addresses have been used to distribute music illegally. It’s a more touchy-feely version of the three-strikes policy sought earlier by the BPI, because this is merely an “education campaign”. The BPI is sending to Virgin IPs it has identified pushing illegal tunes, and both the ISP and the music body will each send “informative letters”, both mailed by Virgin.

But this isn’t the controversial policy in to which the music biz wanted to strongarm ISPs. Instead of sending three warning letters before disconnecting transgressors outright, the letters contain: “Practical advice on how to prevent account misuse, links to legitimate sources of on-line music and information about the potential dangers of downloading files from unauthorised sources, including increased threats from viruses and spyware.” In other words, some of the internet nasties the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) highlighted recently as downsides to file-sharing.

Virgin Media told me: “We don’t want to accuse customers. We’re prepared to accept that the customer wasn’t aware they’re doing something unlawful – it may be a member of their family, or a neighbour if they left their WiFi open” What if customers continue to transgress after receiving the letter? “There’s no suggestion of suspension or disconnection. We will review the success of the campaign in a couple of months time or so.”

Neither party is naive here. The three-strikes policy proved too controversial to implement in one fell swoop. In this softly-softly approach, Virgin Media is showing faith in its consumers – but if, after several months, the BPI doesn’t see reductions in the amount of illegally-shared music going across it’s network, it may yet win support for its preferred, tougher measures.