Music industry to snoop on Napster fans

The IFPI is planning to seriously crack down on repeat Napster users

The music industry is developing software that will automatically detect people who are illegally swapping songs over the Internet -- and it is prepared to pass the information onto the police.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), a group which represents the global music industry, hopes to use the software in its fight against copyright violation on the Internet. It already conducts manual searches of the Web to find people offering digital music illegally, and claims that the new tools, which are still in development, will handle the task much quicker.

"We have a very aggressive commitment to the fight against piracy, especially against those who upload large amounts of digital music onto the Net. We're not so bothered about the one-time downloader," said Adrian Strain, IFPI's communications director.

The IFPI is already taking action against people who make large amounts of digital music files available on the Net. "We conduct manual searches to find people offering links to pirate songs," explained Strain, adding that those who uploaded a lot of digital music, or who ran illegal commercial operations, would be targeted. Strain added that such people could end up in court.

"We normally send a letter asking them to stop, then a second letter if they ignore the first. The last resort is legal action." Strain explained that while civil cases could be handled by the IFPI, the organisation was also working closely with the police.

Strain wouldn't give away details about the automatic tools, and refused to indicate when they might enter use, but insisted that there were no privacy implications. Privacy experts, however, have slammed the use of such software.

The actions of the Belgian arm of the IFPI in passing the details of Napster users to the police have also been heavily criticised, amid claims that the methods used to gather IP addresses are an invasion of privacy.

It emerged last week that the IFPI was taking a very aggressive approach to those users who were sharing music files online in Belgium, with reports suggesting that the details of hundreds of Napster users had been passed to the Belgian police.

The head of IFPI in Belgium, Marcel Heymans, claimed Thursday that Belgian police were poised to raid the homes of hundreds of Napster users. "The time for warnings is over, now we're going into action," Heymans told Belgian newspaper Financieel Economische Tijd.

Strain explained that, while he couldn't confirm reports of raids against users, he was aware that the details of some Napster users had been passed to the police. "Several thousand Belgian Napster users were identified. Letters were sent requesting that they ceased swapping copyright-protected songs, and the vast majority stopped. The names of a hardcore of around 100 users who ignored repeated warnings have been passed to the police," he said.

Strain insisted that, at least in the UK, the IFPI's priority was to catch those who were making large amounts of music available illegally on the Net, rather than the "casual downloader".

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