Virgin Warns Pirates

Thousands of Virgin Media customers will be getting letters telling them not to illegally download songs.

The move is the result of an agreement struck with the U.K.’s record companies, although it stops short of the "three strikes and you’re out" policy the British Phonographic Industry has been pushing.

Virgin says it prefers to "educate" its customers, although the letters will be accompanied by one from the BPI that warns that persistent offenders could be taken to court.

The letters will give an example of a peer-to-peer downloading site that has been illegally accessed from the customer’s computer.

Both letters will be distributed by Virgin Media, without the need to disclose customer names and addresses to the BPI.

"This is a very welcome first step by Virgin and the BPI to educate consumers about unlawful file sharing, which damages our vibrant creative economy," said business minister Shriti Vadera, announcing the government’s backing for the campaign.

"We want people to enjoy music online without infringing the rights of musicians and music companies. This campaign is about helping our customers understand how they can do this," a Virgin spokesman told the Daily Telegraph.

In cases where the illegal downloading is done on a family computer, the BPI and Virgin, which has about 3.5 million subscribers, believe the named customer – usually a parent – may not even be aware that the account is being used in this way.

The new campaign will provide practical advice on how to prevent account misuse as well as links to legitimate sources of online music and information about the potential dangers of downloading files from unauthorised sources, including increased threats from viruses and spyware.

BPI chief exec Geoff Taylor says his organisation believes partnerships with ISPs can help build an Internet where music is properly valued.

"That will benefit not just musicians, songwriters and labels, but all Internet users who love music. This joint campaign with Virgin Media is the first step towards achieving that goal," he explained.