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Virgin Media To Spy On & Threaten Downloaders 349

Mike writes "Virgin Media, the UK's largest cable-modem provider, has decided that it will spy on its users to protect record industry profits. Starting next week Virgin Media will send letters to thousands of households where they suspect music is either being downloaded or illegally shared. The campaign is a joint venture between Virgin Media and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which represents the major record labels. The BPI ultimately wants Internet companies to implement a 'three strikes and out' rule to warn and ultimately disconnect the estimated 6.5 million customers whose accounts are (supposedly) used for regular criminal activity. In other words, you download a few songs and they'll come along and cut off the one wire that delivers freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly."
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Virgin Media To Spy On & Threaten Downloaders

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  • freedom (Score:3, Informative)

    by mark72005 ( 1233572 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:13AM (#23709789)
    "Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly"

    Well, we're talking about the UK here, not the US.
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:5, Informative)

    by The Angry Mick ( 632931 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:22AM (#23709969) Homepage

    Seriously. Here's the headline and teaser text from the same story as presented by ArsTechnica, which is painted in a vastly different light:

    UK ISP bows to record industry, to send P2P warning letters:
    British ISP Virgin Media has come to an agreement with the BPI, which represents the record industry, to warn filesharers on its network about the dangers of copyright infringement.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:25AM (#23710003)
    I'm unlucky enough to be a Virgin ADSL customer at the moment, they already cap their 'unlimited' service and shape torrents down to 1K/Sec anyway. I'll be leaving their terrible service soon and I urge everyone else to do the same.
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:5, Informative)

    by blowdart ( 31458 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:27AM (#23710055) Homepage
    And it, of course, shows a stunning lack of understanding of geography or other countries. The UK has no enshrined right to free speech, the right to assembly has been slowly curtailed since the 1980s, starting with laws to stop raves, and then to stop political demonstrations in certain areas (like outside parliament) and cutting off a personal internet account doesn't stop journalists reporting.

    The three strikes "solution" is problematic however; because suddenly a corporation is policing something. And that is more worrying than anything else.

  • by oyenstikker ( 536040 ) <slashdot@sbyrn e . org> on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:30AM (#23710091) Homepage Journal
    At least not in their role as ISPs.
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:5, Informative)

    by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:31AM (#23710121) Homepage
    Yes, The Register had a much more balanced article too: [].From that article, 'At this stage there will be no "three strikes" process; customers who continue to fileshare illegally will not be disconnected.'

    Virgin are also quoted as saying it was unwilling to disconnect customers who don't stop accessing illegal music. A spokesman said: "It's a bit of a judgement call for us to be making threats of disconnection or account suspension. We weren't willing to do that. There are now so many lawful cheap and free music services out there that we believe an education campaign in partnership with the BPI is the best way forward."

    Seems Virgin aren't quite being the bad guys the summary makes out.
  • by dkf ( 304284 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:32AM (#23710139) Homepage

    From using a record company as your ISP.
    They're almost completely unrelated companies; the only thing in common (apart from some shared shareholders) is the fact that they both license the "Virgin" trademark from the same third company.
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:4, Informative)

    by evilandi ( 2800 ) <> on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:39AM (#23710247) Homepage
    Also for those who are unclear on the definition of "UK", note that it is not the USA. Ergo any comparison with USian freedoms is stark raving bonkers. We don't have freedom of speech or freedom of assembly here, they have never been enshrined as rights (freedom of the press, though, is enforced by the Press Complaints Authority with arms-length backing from Her Majesty's Government).

    For example, it is illegal to wear a t-shirt with a politican slogan in the street outside Parliament.
  • by Rekolitus ( 899752 ) * on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:46AM (#23710375)
    This is correct. In the US, ISPs are classified as an information service by the FCC.
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:4, Informative)

    by l-ascorbic ( 200822 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:11PM (#23710847)
    The PCA doesn't enforce freedom of the press. Quite the contrary. It's a method by which the press self-regulates. It doesn't stop the govt placing restrictions on the press. It investigates complaints *against* the press, such as for invasion of privacy.

    As for no enshrined rights: the Human Rights Act codifies a large number of them, including freedom of speech. As for the US Constitution: the Bill of Rights was strongly influenced by British common law, including the Magna Carta.

    That said, this hasn't stopped the government trampling on a lot of these rights. Much of this is due to the fact that we don't have a Supreme Court (yet) so it's hard to enforce any of them.
  • by QJimbo ( 779370 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:13PM (#23710887)
    After the terrible events of WWII, major european countries came together and created the closest thing we have to a constitution, the European Convention of Human Rights. This was ratified in law in 1998 with the Human Rights Act. But yes, our civil liberties in the UK are eroding, but we do have the same protection as our "USian" cousins. Just their constitution is being just as shredded as our human rights.
  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:17PM (#23710953)
    It started because NTL (cable operator) decided to buy out TeleWest (another cable operator), mainly because Telewest was able to remain in the black and NTL kept making a loss and had poor customer service. Both networks had invested heavily in infrastructure and were struggling to make a profit.

    NTL seals $6bn Telewest takeover []

    Then Virgin Mobile andd NTL:Telewest merged. Branson accepted a 10.7% shareholder offer in return for being able to use the Virgin brandname. The motivation for this was to compete against BSkyB, but the side effect was to cause the loss of Sky One and Sky News (a bit pathetic because Sky News can still be viewed using broadband, if only in 10 minute segments), and caused more financial loss to Sky (through advertising revenue) that to Virgin.

    Virgin media [].

    From the viewpoint of a customer, the side effect of the cable network being bought out by Virgin, has been to have information packs translated into ValleyGirl Speak. The first line was "Hello you!" and an reassuring statement "We're not going to bamboozle you with technobabble, so we've renamed all our services in easy to understand S(mall), (M)edium, (L)arge and (XL)extra-large. Just as bad as sky referring to the receiver unit as the "digibox".
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:3, Informative)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:24PM (#23711059)
    starting with laws to stop raves

    Because the rave parties were being held out in disused barns in the countryside, through the night to the early morning, disturbing both farm workers and animals.

    olitical demonstrations in certain areas (like outside parliament)

    Because the MP's didn't want their work disturbed by the noise made by certain protestors - if they listened to the voted population in the first place, they wouldn't have protestors outside their offices in the first place.
  • Three strikes? (Score:3, Informative)

    by rgviza ( 1303161 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:51PM (#23711521)
    That's actually pretty kind for people that violate their ToS, which usually list copyright violations as one of the big no-nos. Technically they could drop them on the first offense then hand them over to the RIAA with all the evidence the RIAA needs.

    Personally I'd rather have my service cut off and learn a valuable lesson than get sued by the RIAA. It's doubtful that it's a antitrust violation since they are punishing people that break the rules outlined in their ToS.

    Bravo? They are doing their subscribers a favor. They could collect the info, forward it to the RIAA, then let them keep subscribing so the RIAA can surgically get their statistics and log them sharing files until they get a suitably sized sample of their activity to get whatever damage award they want.

    Another point: Since shares are publicly accessible on the p2p networks, it's not spying, despite the tin foil hat mentality the author is implying. Spying implies the interception of communication. Sharing files illegally doesn't require spying to see it happening.

    All it takes is a p2p program on the same network...

    It's the ISPs duty to police illegal activity occurring on their network.

    The only danger I see is that people sharing files legally (the copyright owners) could be singled out and dropped erroneously.

    I fail to see how this is any worse than an employer firing someone for running a p2p server which is sharing copyrighted files to the world from their employer's network. Copyright violation is copyright violation, and is illegal activity according to current laws.

    If you want to fix this problem, write your leaders and have the copyright laws changed. They are the real culprit, not the people abiding the law by policing their networks.

  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:3, Informative)

    by Narpak ( 961733 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:52PM (#23711535)

    Sorry, but if you believe that, then you are out of touch. Or, to put it more directly - how do you think people exercised those freedoms before the internet? Somehow, hundreds of people throughout history managed to make their views known to more than a few people without the internet. So, I say again, hyperbole.
    Hundreds of people throughout history might have managed to make their views know; but I guarantee there is millions of people throughout history that had their views oppressed and censored. Internet does make it a lot easier to express your opinions and to find people that agree/disagree with which to have meaningful debate (and a quite a lot more to have blazing flame wars with).
  • by jimicus ( 737525 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:54PM (#23711581)
    Branson has sold and re-sold the Virgin identity many times. Just because a company is called Virgin and uses the distinctive logo, you shouldn't assume it's got anything to do with anything else in the group.
  • by QX-Mat ( 460729 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @01:10PM (#23711837)
    For UK/EU ppl out there, [] and [] for the safe harbour provisions.

    Rest is my untested knowledge for which I accept no liability.

    I believe it all hinges on third party liability to a breach tho - a question of fact and degree will not suffice in claims like this. Third party liability is only established through knowing participation (knowledgeable assistance if you will).

    Actual knowledge is one piece constructive, and one piece subjective. Claimants often try to claim entirely on the constructive knowledge front (so they don't have to show the state of mind) and ignore actual knowledge, which requires a dishonest state of mind. and so the argument goes a dishonest mind is hard to prove when you don't know what's going across your tubes. but then there's also a grey area: wilful blindness/recklessness and the argument you can't be guilty of being reckless as to data exchanged when you don't monitor the data upon international standard that avoids actionable per se).

    I think from a liability point of view, ISPs need to take a step back, and start offering unrestricted plans that don't acknowledge *anything* about the content they're handling.

    I say that because I think safe harbour provisions are an all or nothing defence. Similar to automatism as a defence to homicide. Let me explain that one. Murder and manslaughter constitue homicide. Murder is a specific intent crime - that is, to be found guilty, a jury will be instructed that they must find the action of killing and the state of mind to kill (a specific intent to kill) coincide at the time of killing. In short that means the mens rea (the guity mind) and actus reus (actions) of a killing must coincide to commit a murder. Without either, you are not guilty of murder, but may be guilty of homicide.

    The intent for murder must be specific - an actuak intent to kill someone or a virtual certainty as to that effect. A virtual certainty is best described if you think of a bomber on a plane - he has the intent to kill people around him when he sets off a bomb, yet it is a virtual certainty that he will kill the rest when the plane crashes, which establishes an indirect/oblique intent.

    Automatons are not responsible for their actions since they lack intent. So... if you're intoxicated (either by prescription drugs, illicit drugs or alcohol) to the extent you cannot possibly form the intent to kill (mens rea), which is so far beyond being drunk it calls for an intoxicated person to be on the brink of death almost, then you can claim automatism.

    (before someone goes off to kill someone, bare in mind that issues of public policy will defeat self-induced automatism)

    Automatism is an all or nothing defence. In so-called "normal cases" of homicide where someone lacks the intent due to intoxication, or someone takes a reckless risk where it was unreasonable to do so in the circumstance and they jury can infer they should have reasonably appreciated that risk, then that person is found not guilty of murder as they lack specific intent, but can still be found guilty of manslaughter.

    If we apply the principal to copyright infringement, and imagine that the safe habour provisions are like a person operating as an automatom, then we assume that should a person ever be proven to be capable for forming a state of mind, fulfilling any mens rea, then they destroy their lawful defence. With an all or nothing defence, there are no levels to mitigate liability. You are either innocent or guilty of an offence if you have or have not a defense.

    When ISPs such as VM start to move beyond their role as providers of a service, they start to acknowledge intent, preventing them from relying on their safe harbour defence

    At the moment we all have a contract with ISPs. Under contract, in which they are obliged to provide a service, as we are o
  • by znerk ( 1162519 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @01:16PM (#23711927)

    Then why haven't AT&T, Verizon, and QWest been sued by the RIAA members for facilitating copyright infringement when they should be filtering, monitoring, and blocking?
    Because they *do* qualify under the "Safe Harbor" Act. Literacy and reading comprehension ftw! []
  • by znerk ( 1162519 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @01:28PM (#23712107)

    Think about how horrible it would be if you could take classic films (like Star Wars), and add tons of CG effects, and resell them.
    You mean like Lucas Arts did? Yeah, that was horrible!
  • by maypull ( 845051 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @01:44PM (#23712357)

    Stealing: I take the CD, the owner no longer has the CD.
    Copying: I copy the data, now we both have the data.
    I don't know about the US, but in the UK you're absolutely right. IANAL, but I was a police officer, and here in the UK the legal definition of theft is

    To dishonestly appropriate with the intention to permanently deprive
    Clearly there is no intention (or indeed possibility) of permanent deprivation, and the applicability of "appropriation" in this context is suspect too.

    This bandying around of the word theft and the annoying faux-hip "CoPyRiGhT is StEaLiNg!!!11!!" things you get at the beginning of DVDs make me bristle every time.
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:4, Informative)

    by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @02:19PM (#23712867) Journal
    > We don't have freedom of speech

    This is a very simplistic view. Just as with the US constitution, the fact that it's not written down doesn't mean that we don't have the right. In Britain the law isn't just determined by those bills that pass through parliament. It is also defined by precedents set by judges in earlier cases. The right of Britons to freedom of speech has been upheld time and again by British courts going back centuries. A judge can't simply overturn that. There is some wiggle room over when those rights can be suspended. In the US, the litmus test for whether or not free speech can be suspended is whether or not there is a "clear and present danger". But that test isn't codified in the Constitution, it arose because of a legal precedent set in a court case. So the situation in the US and UK are pretty similar in this regard.

  • by mpeskett ( 1221084 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @03:21PM (#23713901)
    The distinction is between "theft" and "copyright infringement". Both involve obtaining something without the permission of the owner, but theft would be actually taking their stuff whereas copyright infringement is making an unauthorised copy for yourself. It's not mental gymnastics, it's what the law is.

    Yes both are illegal, but they're different crimes. You can therefore decide that you want copyright infringement to no longer be a crime (by abolishing copyright or legalising filesharing or whatever) without also deciding you want to legalise "proper" theft.

    Calling it theft is a tactic used by the copyright holders to make copyright infringement sound like a more serious crime than it is. Unfortunately for them they also called it piracy and hence made it cool.
  • by mpe ( 36238 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @04:59PM (#23715549)
    The motivation for this was to compete against BSkyB, but the side effect was to cause the loss of Sky One and Sky News (a bit pathetic because Sky News can still be viewed using broadband, if only in 10 minute segments),

    Even more ironic Sky News is still of "Freeview"...

Make it myself? But I'm a physical organic chemist!