The British record industry is ramping up its battle against illegal file-sharers. During a media briefing in London today (March 25), the British Phonographic Industry confirmed it would take legal a

The British record industry is ramping up its battle against illegal file-sharers.

During a media briefing in London today (March 25), the British Phonographic Industry confirmed it would take legal action against individuals who have illegally download music files. The move, tipped this January by the trade body's outgoing director general Andrew Yeates, follows similar action in the United States by the RIAA.

First, the BPI is launching an awareness campaign, using instant-messenger (IM) services to warn illegal file-sharers to cease and desist or face court action. Similar announcements from national affiliates of the IFPI are expected in the coming months.

"In our view, electronic theft is no different from physical theft," says BPI chairman Peter Jamieson.

Jamieson emphasizes that the BPI will resort only to civil, not criminal, actions. But he anticipates legal action will only be necessary should the new awareness campaign fail to make an impact.

Yeates says civil action is preferable to criminal lawsuits because the former "allows us to get compensatory damages." Those found responsible for illegally distributing music files would pay damages for each track downloaded by third parties.

The IM campaign, which will use an automated IM system already installed on file-sharing services such as KaZaA and Grokster, will warn illegal users they could be sued. "We're using the same technology against them," Yeates says. It will be followed by a general-media campaign later this year, he adds.

The litigation move comes after a BPI-commissioned survey concluded that 18% of the British population, or about 8 million people, say they download music regularly. Of that figure, 92%, or 7.4 million people, use illegal file-sharing services.

Consumers who do not download say the amount of money they spent on music purchases last year was unchanged. Regular downloaders say their spending on singles dropped 59% in 2003, compared with the previous year.