International trade body the IFPI is expected to start suing illegal file-sharers in the United Kingdom and France, following similar recent actions elsewhere in the EU.

LONDON--International trade body the IFPI is expected to start suing illegal file-sharers in the United Kingdom and France, following similar recent actions elsewhere in the EU.

On March 30, IFPI launched legal actions in Denmark, Germany, Italy and Canada against a total of 247 individuals accused of illegally downloading copyrighted music.

Peter Jamison, British executive chairman of British trade body the BPI, says he is "convinced that we will take action this year if things don't change."

On March 25, the BPI launched an instant-messaging campaign, warning P2P users that they risk legal action if they continue their file-sharing operations.

"The warning period will last for as long as we believe it is necessary," Jamieson says. "We will resort to legal action when we feel that we've done all we can in terms of education."

However, the BPI will only resort to civil-not criminal-actions. The first users to be targeted will be what outgoing BPI director-general Andrew Yeates calls "the uploaders who act as mini-retailers." He says civil law applied to copyright is preferable to criminal lawsuits because the former "allows us to get compensatory damages."

Meanwhile, in France, industry body SNEP also issued a warning to file-sharers. "We will continue to raise awareness, but litigation has become indispensable," says SNEP director general Herve Rony. He expects there to be French cases "before the end of 2004."

Legal action is complicated in Europe because each country has a different set of rules.

In Germany, 68 individuals have been reported to law enforcement authorities pursuant to criminal complaints for alleged peer-to-peer infringement.

In contrast to other European countries, German law does not provide for any secure right to claim information from ISPs in civil-law proceedings. As a result, the copyright holders are forced to initiate criminal-law proceedings to determine the identity of the parties involved.

In Denmark, more than 120 people were sent civil demand letters asking them either to stop illegal file sharing and pay compensation, or face legal action. Each individual was asked to pay euros 10,667 ($12,990) for illegally downloading music or films from the Net. Each of them downloaded an average of 5,000 music files, or 60 films.

In Italy, 30 individuals have been charged with copyright infringement; in Canada, the number is 29.

"This is the start of an international campaign against copyright theft," says IFPI chairman and CEO Jay Berman.

"These cases are not about downloading for personal use," says IFPI general council Allen Dixon. "It's about putting hundreds or thousands of files [on the Internet] for people to share."

More legal actions are expected in the coming weeks.