ISPs help government to sink pirates

The battle against pirate radio stations is taking to the Web, and ISPs are being press-ganged into service

The UK government has turned to Internet service providers to help in its fight against pirate radio stations.

As part of its move to widen the scope of its attack against illegal broadcasters, the Radiocommunications Agency (RA) is increasingly asking ISPs to close down the Web sites that promote these stations.

In the past, the RA's focus has primarily been just on the actual broadcasters, and latest figures released this week suggest it is succeeding -- with the number of estimated active pirate broadcasters down by almost a fifth.

People or companies who advertise such broadcasters or provide premises are also liable to be prosecuted, and the Department of Trade and Industry is keen to point out that this includes people who promote pirate stations on the Web. An ISP that hosts promotional activity for a pirate radio station might also be committing an offence by hosting this illegal content, but there's no suggestion that the RA would seek to bring a prosecution against such a service provider.

"We're working with the Internet industry on the issue of Web sites that are illegally advertising these stations. When ISPs are made aware, they're keen to help by taking down these sites," a DTI spokesman told ZDNet UK News on Tuesday, adding that this is still a fledgling area for the RA.

A total of 49 pirate broadcasters were successfully prosecuted in 2002 by the RA -- a conviction rate of 100 percent, and over twice as many as in 2001. The maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment, and an unlimited fine, and these sanctions also apply to those who support and promote pirate broadcasters.

"ISPs have been happy to act when we tell them that certain material is illegal," the DTI spokesman said, explaining that the RA's strategy is based on cooperation, not threats.

Because pirate radio stations are not allocated radio frequencies by the RA, but instead transmit without regard for authorised users, they can interfere with the radio transmissions of the emergency services and the Civil Aviation Authority.

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