EU Telecom Industry Tries to Boost Legal Music Downloading

Telecommunications companies are trying to encourage subscribers to turn to legitimate ways of downloading music, movies and TV shows, but the music industry wants them to take more direct action to prevent illegal file sharing.

ETNO, the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, launched a Web site Monday designed to raise awareness about the music, movies and TV programs legally offered online through its members, Europe's largest telecom providers.

The aim is to reduce the amount of illegal downloading of content online, and comes as European lawmakers consider pleas from the record industry and Hollywood movie studios to clamp down harder on the practice.

Some countries, including France, have taken a more draconian approach to online copyright abuse by threatening to ban illegal file sharers from the Internet with the so-called three strikes and you are out rule.

However, pressure during the French presidency of the European Union during the second half of last year failed to spread this approach to European Union law, partly due to lobbying from telecom companies.

But far from giving up, content owners are now trying to persuade lawmakers that two pending reviews of Internet-related laws be used to clamp down both on the file sharers and the ISPs.

The two laws due for a review are the e-commerce directive and the copyright directive. The telecom industry insists that no changes are needed. In other words, if content owners suspect a copyright infringement, they should go to a court and get a formal injunction to investigate, as they have always done.

Content owners, on the other hand, want ISPs to be responsible for making sure their networks aren't used for copyright infringement, and for action to be taken without the bureaucratic hassle of going to court.

"The rapidly growing choice of legitimate online content services illustrates the increasing cooperation between e-communications providers and content owners in order to respond to consumer demand for price-worthy, secure and user-friendly services," says Michael Bartholomew, director of ETNO.

Increasing choice of legitimate content online and raising awareness among users are the best instruments to fight against illicit file sharing, he said.

The record industry gave a muted response to ETNO's move, and reiterated its call for tougher measures to punish illegal file sharers.

"ETNO's website bears witness to the many attractive, legitimate services that the music industry has developed in Europe," said John Kennedy, chief executive of the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), in response to written questions.

He argued that raising awareness of all the legitimate options available to consumers is "an important part" of developing a thriving digital content sector, but added: "We now urgently need ETNO and its member companies to play their part in curbing mass-scale copyright infringement on their networks to make space for these legitimate services to grow."

ETNO's Bartholomew insisted that users "should not be unreasonably criminalized or stigmatized," adding that the problem of copyright infringement must be dealt with "under the existing legal framework, in a scenario where choice and availability for the consumer, and rights and privacy for the citizen are all fully guaranteed."

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