Exclusive In Depth News Feature: Interview: Matt Phillips, BPI

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Jun 26, 2007
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Matt Phillips, Director of Communications at the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), speaks to TechRadar about yesterday's breakthrough announcement that six of the main Internet Service Providers have signed up to a MOU in a bid to curb illegal filesharing. Here is what he has to say...

TechRadar: What will actually be in the letters?

Matt Philips: There's no definite letter as of yet. It will most probably be along the lines of the letters we sent out in partnership with Virgin Media. I imagine the tone would be more informational than "threatening".

The Virgin Media letters essentially outline why the customer has been written to, advises the customer that 'their account has been identified by us [the BPI] as being used to illegally fileshare music'' and then provide the customer information on how to put the problem right.

TR: Will there be one standard letter?

MP: Probably not. We'll discuss all this with each ISP, but the letters will most likely be tailored for each ISP - as the providers will probably all want to do things slightly differently.

TR: What happens after the letters have been sent?

MP: The letter writing process starts now, but in addition, all of the signatories to this deal - the six ISPs, the BPI and government will work with Ofcom to determine what measures will be appropriate for those people who chose not to follow the advice in the letters.

It has been well-publicised that the BPI is all for a graduated response system. We call it 'three step'.

Under this policy, persistent illegal file-sharers would face the sanction of having their contracts cancelled by the ISP.

We believe this is the cleanest and simplest way of dealing with the situation. But the deal proposes alternative technical methods such as traffic shaping, filtering and bandwidth throttling. These technologies already exist, and we're open to this discussion.

Frankly, we want to see the problem remedied and this deal puts in place a real framework to progress ahead of regulation.

TR: What have the ISPS actually signed up for?

MP: Signing this memorandum of understanding (MOU) does not change anyone's legal position, but represents a good faith commitment to engage in tackling the problem.

Under the MOU, the ISPs have committed to sending out a minimum of 1,000 letters a week each, for three months, before escalating the numbers, which would amount to a minimum of 300,000 letters.

The MOU is a declaration by the ISPs that there is a problem, and that they have made a statement of intent to work with us and the government to solve the illegal file-sharing problem together is hugely significant.

But we are under no illusion that this will be the end to the problem, as there is a lot of work left to do, but it is certainly a significant step in the right direction.

TR: What is the government's overall plan?

MP: The government intend this process to result in a significant reduction in illegal file-sharing over the next few years.

A recent study commissioned for us by Jupiter research suggested there were more than 6 million people regularly filesharing in the UK, which gives a clear indication of the challenge we are facing. And this MOU goes a step further to significantly reducing that number.

TR: How is this different to the way the BPI has tackled the problem in the past?

MP: The legal cases we took against individual uploaders in 2004-5 had an effect in raising awareness, and establishing that the evidence we send to ISPs stands up to High Court scrutiny.

I think it also reduced the number of people uploading. But it's an expensive process, and burdens the ISP's customers with huge legal costs, the settlement figures averaged out at just over £2000 per case.

We have preferred to work with the ISPs themselves, with us sending them the information, rather than going to the courts to pursue a legal case, so they can communicate with their own customers. Thus far they have resisted doing this in any formal way, which is why this is a major breakthrough for all of us.

The BPI believes that ISPs not only have a social responsibility to act when they know their customers accounts are being used illegally, but a legal responsibility.

TR: Why do you think that internet piracy is rife?

MP: There's myriad reasons why people have taken to downloading illegal copies of songs and movies from the web.

For a start people, particularly younger people, are becoming more technologically savvy. And ISPs not clamping down on the problem straight away, even encouraging it, has contributed to a public perception that illegal downloading is somehow an okay thing to do.

We have been accused of being against peer-to-peer technology and downloads - we're not. We are against the abuse of this kind of technology. And that's why we have worked hard to create models that will make it easier for people to download music in a safe and legal way, and will keep working to improve customer choice in this area

Equally, we want internet users to respect and understand the value of music, and that even though it may come in the form of a digital download and not, say, a CD, it's the content and not the delivery that the most valuable part. Labels, and the bands they support, all need to be paid and rewarded for what they do, regardless of the medium their music comes in.