The British music industry will consider suing individuals who illegally distribute music online, BPI director general Andrew Yeates told a parliamentary advisory forum in London on Tuesday.

The British music industry will consider suing individuals who illegally distribute music online, BPI director general Andrew Yeates told a parliamentary advisory forum in London on Tuesday.

Speaking at the session, which the industry body hosted with Internet service providers' association ISPA, Yeates said the growing trend of illegal copying and distribution of unauthorized music files online is making such legal action "increasingly likely."

"The music industry will defend its rights under the law whether it is against traders selling illegally copied CDs on market stalls, or people uploading illegally over the Internet," Yeates stated. "Nobody should be in any doubt that such uses of file-sharing networks are illegal and are harming the health of British music. We will take legal action if we are forced to."

Yeates' comments are the firmest indication yet that the British recording industry, the world's third largest, is prepared to follow the hard line taken by the RIAA. During December, the IFPI announced it too was prepared to take legal action to curb illicit P2P file sharing in Europe.

However, Yeates also hinted that legal enforcement would not go ahead until new legitimate music download services make their expected European debuts later in the year. Apple Computer's digital download store, RealNetworks' Rhapsody and Roxio's Napster are among the U.S. download services poised to enter the European market.

Yeates added that the BPI was stepping up talks with European Internet service providers (ISPs) to streamline a process for identifying the major culprits, a necessary development if a legal campaign is to be effective. No final decision has yet been made on taking legal action against file-sharers.

According to a recent Nielsen/NetRatings report, Europeans are now consuming more music online through the rogue KaZaA network than U.S. Internet users.