Six of the UK's biggest internet service providers have agreed a plan with the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) to try to deter their customers from downloading music illegally via peer-to-peer (P2P) online sharing.

BT, Virgin, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse have all now signed up to the BPI deal will result in hundreds of thousands of letters sent to those customers who the BPI suspects are illegally sharing music.

6.5 million pirates in UK

There are an estimated 6.5 million web users involved in illicit file-sharing of music and films in the UK, according to reports in the Guardian this week.

"Many technophobic parents are oblivious to their children's internet activities, and in some cases they will learn for the first time how their children use their bedroom PCs and laptops for piracy," notes that report.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the BPI, which represents the British music industry, said that it had taken years to get the ISPs to agree to this, noting:

"All of the major ISPs in the UK now recognise they have a responsibility to deal with illegal file-sharers on their networks."

Nose, spite, face

However, the ISPs are not prepared to go the whole BPI hog, and threaten to cut off their own customers should they ignore repeated warnings to stop downloading music files illegally.

The six ISPs have signed up to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was drawn up by governmental body, the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR).

The Motion Pictures Association of America and BERR have also signed.

The MOU places joint commitments on the signatories to continue developing consumer education programmes and legal online services. Most importantly, for the first time ISPs will be required to work with music and other rightsholders towards a "significant reduction" in illegal filesharing.

Deterrent

The BPI's Geoff Taylor said: "The focus is on people sharing files illegally; there is not an acceptable level of file-sharing. Musicians need to be paid like everyone else…File-sharing is not anonymous, it is not secret, it is against the law."

He added: "There should be effective mechanisms in place (to deter file-sharing) and as long as they are effective, we don't mind what they are."

Before now the BPI has called for a "three-strikes" system which would see net connections of persistent pirates terminated if three warnings went ignored.

Feargal Sharkey, formerly of The Undertones added: "Government, particularly in the UK, has now realised there is an issue, there is a problem there."