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Illegal downloaders forced to pay the labels

UK record labels have forced 23 Internet users to pay fines worth a total of more than £50,000 after they admitted to illegally downloading music.

The organisation that represents UK record labels said it had agreed the fines with 23 people - including a local councillor, an IT director and parents of child downloaders - who had downloaded tracks from file sharing sites such as Kazaa, Grockster and Bearshare.

At the same time the British Phonographic Industry said it was bringing 31 new actions against other "illegal" file sharers as it accelerated a campaign to clamp down on copyright infringements.

These file sharers, aged between 22 and 58, agreed to pay fines each averaging around £2,000 after they were targeted by a BPI monitoring project designed to identify people involved in the large-scale download of music tracks.

The BPI refused to confirm that children were among those fined, but admitted that some of the downloaders were parents and said it was "highly likely that they settled on behalf of their children".

The organisation said the negotiated settlements represented a victory for the music industry in its battle to prevent what it routinely describes as "online theft".

"We are determined to find people who illegally distribute music, whichever peer-to-peer network they use, and to make them compensate the artists and labels they are stealing from," said the BPI's general counsel, Geoff Taylor.

"These settlements show we can and we will enforce the law. No one should be in any doubt that we will continue to do so."

The BPI said the 23 users had downloaded between a few hundred to "many thousands" of tracks with two of the heaviest downloaders each agreeing to pay more than £4,000.

Although the BPI said the average fines represented more than a month's salary, they are dwarfed by the £6,800 fine slapped on a French teacher last month.

French record labels took the unprecedented step of taking out adverts in Liberation and Le Parisien, two of France's best selling daily newspapers, in a warning shot to other unauthorised downloaders.

The BPI said it would go to the high court today in a bid to unearth the identities of 31 other individuals and widen its search to other sites.

"If illegal file sharers think that they can avoid getting caught by staying away from the most popular networks like Kazaa, they're wrong," said Mr Taylor. "We are going to continue bringing cases against people who distribute music illegally, whichever file sharing network they use, for as long as it's necessary.

"Legitimate music services can only prosper if we continue to fight the theft of music on the Internet."

The move comes less than a month before users of the most popular peer-to-peer networks - so called because they route music and other downloads between individual computers rather than relying on a central server - plan a week of direct action urging people not to buy any CDs.

Scheduled for the last week in April, the move is designed to send a message to the studios and record labels that are cracking down on online file sharing.

"The wealthiest, nowadays, decide what we listen to and watch using staggering public relations campaigns; most releases are 'format' productions where talent, passion and creativity come after profits and greed," says a message on the organisers' website.

"Most of us feel that they should look into wider availability and more affordable pricing instead of claiming higher moral ground as an excuse to prop up an outdated and failing business model."

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