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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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  • by Odder ( 1288958 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:08AM (#23709683)

    How obvious can an anti-trust and privacy case be? You just know that the internet will become an RIAA only music store for those 6.5 million people.

    People with wealth and power are doing this because they think they can and they must. The political opinions expressed outside of broadcast media will eliminated along with economic threats to the music industry. People who believe in justice and the rule of law are an economic threat too, so this is all the same animal and that's why media consolidation and broadcast itself suck. Society must prevent this and may be able to because so many stand to win as a few lose.

  • Broadband access (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mrbah ( 844007 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:11AM (#23709759)
    Well, that's one way to increase broadband access. Drive everyone to lease their own T1s instead of putting up with this kind of crap.
  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:13AM (#23709783) Homepage Journal
    "...they'll come along and cut off the one wire that delivers freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly."

    TFA makes it sound like the internet is the only way to exercise these liberties. I suppose blowing up the courthouse is also one way for me to exercise my voice but they seem to have made that one illegal. Shame on them!
  • That is what comes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:13AM (#23709799)
    From using a record company as your ISP. Anyone could have predicted that they would be tougher on illegal downloads than ISPs that are mainly communications companies.
  • over-reaching FUD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:15AM (#23709827) Homepage Journal
    Ordinarily I oppose just about anything that the RIAA and their cohorts do. However, when I see a line like

    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

    And I'm no longer in support of the author of this article.

    Really, how does the internet deliver freedom of assembly? And how does not having the internet really stop your ability to use freedom of assembly? I'm pretty sure assemblies have been held without the internet in the past.

    And thats just to point out one absurdity in that sentence. There are plenty of good reasons to be angry about ISPs that want to shut off customers for various reasons - I don't think the author should have needed to make any up.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:15AM (#23709831)
    To be fair, what "justice" is can be defined quite differently over the years.

    The argument for not punishing file sharing is somewhat analogous (with a few less relevant differences) to people walking into vinyl stores some decades ago, and using a piece of custom equipment to duplicate vinyls onto their own blank platters, at a cheaper price, without paying, and then leaving. Would this have been considered "justice" at the time? I doubt it. What are the differences? Not many relevant ones, cluttering up the store would be one (though what is the argument for storeowners arbitrarily deciding who can and who can't come into their store?), while the majority would simply be difference of distribution channel.

    While I download things occasionally, I acknowledge that it's against the law, and would not whine if I was caught. There's plenty of "repressiveness" around - for example, I would like to modify GPL code and sell it, including my change, but in that case, ownership seems to be extremely important and "rightly" be met with extreme retributiveness. A lot of what is said, like "anti-trust" here, is plain crap as well, illogical idiocy that people leverage as an argument just because it sounds good. As a consequence, I think none of the crowd are very sympathetic people at all.

  • Totally Cheddar (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lymond01 ( 314120 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:15AM (#23709835)
    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.

    I don't mean to be critical, but isn't this just a touch over the top? I don't like the idea of people tracking downloads and cutting of Internet connections any more than you, but for the moment, downloading is still illegal. If someone managed to catch you and charge you $10,000 per song (or whatever the going rate is...I think it's rationed on the same scale as gas prices) or throw you in prison for repeat offenses, would that be any better than losing your ISP?

    We need to convince the world that the recording industry is trying to bill us for not buying horseshoes even though we're driving cars. They've said it themselves: they made a mistake by not having download services sooner, and now they've lost a generation of kids who think music grows on the web for free. Let them charge the band for the original recording of the song, the videos, take a share of concert revenue for the advertising work, etc. But taking a percentage of money every time the song is played or recorded elsewhere, in the age of perfect digital copies, is archaic at best.

    But don't make me want to go buy duct tape and plastic sheeting because I'm breaking the current copyright laws.
  • by tezza ( 539307 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:19AM (#23709923)
    I think Mike the submitter is really overdoing it with his rhetoric.

    "the one wire that delivers freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly"
    --- Mike, take an antacid and calm down. You'll save yourself a stroke.

    *Why could you not legally download the songs?
    * If they wanted to disconnect you, could they not just find some other trumped up reason to do so?
    * There is plenty of alternate choice for broadband in places where Virgin Media is commonly available

    Let's wait to see just how often this gets used before it becomes an issue.

    I get throttled all the time after a few DivX downloads, and the solution is to download in non-peak times.

    I'm sure slashdot will be informed once the letters actually start being posted.

  • 6.5 million (Score:2, Insightful)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:24AM (#23709983) Homepage Journal

    6.5 million customers whose accounts are (supposedly) used for regular criminal activity
    When that large a proportion of the population is breaking a law, should the law itself be put into question? Basically, if a society doesn't consider something to be objectionable, shouldn't it be legal? That should be a natural consequence of democracy.
  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:24AM (#23709987)
    This is literally the "Whackamole" of modern business.

    They just do not get it.

    People do not have $10,000 to load up an IPOD with content.

    People will spend to the level they can/feel is ethical and then take the rest.

    If they can't get it off the internet, they'll do it face to face in sneaker nets.
    Or they'll encrypt/mangle the packets.
    Or things we havn't even imagined yet.
  • by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:24AM (#23709993)
    Cut off over 6 million paying customers?

    No way that's ever going to happen. No industry in its right mind would destroy itself to satisfy the needs of another.
  • Virgin this... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:26AM (#23710025)

    The wonderful thing about huge, sprawling conglomerates like Virgin is that there's no shortage of ways to hit back at them when they pull this kind of bullshit.

    Do you have a Virgin cell phone? Pound it to slag and mail it back to the bastards, along with a letter explaining why you won't be needing their services anymore. Tell your travel agent that you won't accept a flight on any Virgin plane, and drop them a line telling them about it. Show up at good old Sir Richard's next publicity stunt with appropriately humorous and offensive signs.

    The beauty of it is that if enough people act, the pressure doesn't have to be kept up for long to have a real effect on the bottom line. How long would it take before losses in other areas overtake any possible gain from Virgin's Nazi-esque assault on free speech?

  • by snl2587 ( 1177409 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:27AM (#23710059)

    The real issues are the domestic, warrantless spying and the attempt to bring down Bittorrent even for legal filesharing. Everything else is secondary.

  • by BorgDrone ( 64343 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:32AM (#23710131) Homepage

    Really, how does the internet deliver freedom of assembly?
    IRC, instant messaging, webforums,etc.

    And how does not having the internet really stop your ability to use freedom of assembly? I'm pretty sure assemblies have been held without the internet in the past.
    Sure, it's still possible to 'assemble' offline, but the threshold is a lot higher. Furthermore, you're excluded from online 'assemblies'.
  • OT - YRO section (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ubrgeek ( 679399 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:35AM (#23710195)
    These stories are getting more and more depressing. I suggest changing the section name to, "Your (Lack of) Rights Online."
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:5, Insightful)

    by whisper_jeff ( 680366 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:36AM (#23710197)
    There is no other way besides the internet to make my views known to more than a few people.

    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.
  • by Mprx ( 82435 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:36AM (#23710207)
    Stealing: I take the CD, the owner no longer has the CD.
    Copying: I copy the data, now we both have the data.

    Copying != theft. Copyright as originally intended "to promote the progress of science and useful arts" is arguably beneficial to society, but copyright as currently implemented mostly benefits the rich elite. With lower barriers to entry for both authorship and distribution the optimal copyright term is now shorter than the original term, but it has instead been increased to be effectively endless. It is no surprise people do not respect such an obviously broken law.
  • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:44AM (#23710345)
    Virgin Music AND Virgin ISP? Now the marketers that put this together for Sir Richard were convinced that this was a good idea. But it is turning out to be the marriage from hell. Did the lunatics who came up with Daimler-Chrysler have anything to do with this?

        Now if someone in Virgin were smart (and when are virgins ever smart?) they would give reduced or even near free downloads to Virgin Music's recordings. And do it in such a way that the anti-monopoly regulators can't do anything about it. Pure Syzygy. But these bozos are turning Virgin into the most hated conglomerate in the UK. Smooth move for a company that relies on its prominent logo as a universal brand of quality among youthful consumers.

        However it appears that in Virgin only Sir Richard has any brains. Does he hire dolts in order to appear that no one in the organization looks cooler than he does?
  • Who needs legs? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by westbake ( 1275576 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:50AM (#23710453) Homepage

    You don't need legs to join a protest, but that does not give you the right to cut mine off.

    The internet, if you had not noticed, has made it possible for people all around the world to cooperate. It is vital to modern political movements and business. The ability to share and publish has gone a long way to repair the damage government created broadcast networks did to democracy and civil discourse.

  • Re:Sheesh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nogginthenog ( 582552 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:50AM (#23710463)
    AFAIK the Virgin companies are not linked, they just paid Richard Branson for the use of the name. Virgin Media is still NTL:Telewest under the hood...
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:51AM (#23710477)
    Actually booting off pirates would be in Virgin's best interests. They're the only people who actually try to use the bandwidth they've paid for. By removing those, they can continue to sell 2MBit connections to email users. Given how much they've whinged about video on demand showing up their shitty infrastructure, I suspect all ISPs to move this way.
  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Macthorpe ( 960048 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:51AM (#23710485) Journal
    It's hyperbole and bullshit because:-

    a) Virgin aren't spying on their users - in fact, the BPI are taking people's IP addresses from BitTorrent swarms (freely available to anybody), matching them up to known Virgin media IP blocks (freely available to anybody) then sending those IPs to Virgin who mail the offending user. Virgin do not tell the BPI who you are or where you live because that would be an enormous breach of the DPA.

    b) Your basic freedoms cannot be impinged upon by a company, only by governments. You can still go out into the street and shout your opinions to the rooftops if you want.

    c) Downloading music for free is not a basic freedom.

    d) Using the internet is not a basic freedom.

    Where the summary got all that horsemanure about right to assembly, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, I have no idea - because it has no bearing or relevance to the topic at hand. At the very least you can point out that only one of those freedoms exists in the UK.

    Another flamebait Slashdot summary successfully baits someone into ranting about something incidental to the real point. Kudos.
  • by Floritard ( 1058660 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:52AM (#23710495)

    Really, how does the internet deliver freedom of assembly?
    The irony being, you've posted this question on a public forum.
  • Re:I agree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Macthorpe ( 960048 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:55AM (#23710547) Journal

    but you must understand that the attack on P2P is really an attack on free press
    I can only assume that you've found some form of political speech that is distributed in illegally shared music, because otherwise your point would be completely meaningless.

    Don't even pretend to mull that over - your point is seriously completely meaningless.
  • Re:Sheesh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jumpin' Jon ( 731892 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @11:58AM (#23710635)
    Virgin provide their customers with broadband, phone and TV down their "single cable", so they stand to lose a lot more than most ISPs when they tell their customers they no longer want their business.
  • by daliman ( 626662 ) <slashdot@@@ontheroad...net...nz> on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:04PM (#23710755) Homepage

    Or at least, that's what they tell the tax department :)

  • Re:Hyperbole (Score:3, Insightful)

    by internewt ( 640704 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:10PM (#23710833) Journal

    If only some countries had places where one could go to share their opinions with large groups ...
    You missed one. [wikipedia.org]
  • by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:12PM (#23710867)
    First, all torrents should be encrypted.

    All user's torrent servers should present an NDA and disclaimer to the effect:

    "Before connecting with this machine you attest to the fact that you are not downloading anything that you may find that you do not have the legal right to access.

    You further more state under oath that any and all activity on this connection is legal as well as private and confidential.

    Any and all legal issues arising from your activity are solely your responsibility

    Lastly, you indemnify the operator of this torrent server against any and all legal actions for your activity."

    yes or no.
  • Re:I agree (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Odder ( 1288958 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:12PM (#23710881)

    Don't confuse copyright violation with the power record companies have just granted themselves and will abuse. It is as if they have put a kill switch on every press. You don't have to like their crappy music to get the ax, you just have to piss them off. They can make up the evidence as needed.

    Now, I'll ask you to do something useful and justify the practice. What common good does copyright serve in an age of costless and limitless self publication? Is that more important than a free press?

  • Re:I agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thtrgremlin ( 1158085 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:23PM (#23711039) Homepage Journal

    Cutting a person's net access is the modern equivalent of exile.
    Or even cultural excommunication. Something typically reserved for convicted felons that received due process... but in the way we communicated in the past, felons were still capable of rebelling against the system that was against them. In a growing way, internet ban means an inability to fight back.

    I remember when I didn't understand how people equated free speech with a right to net access. I am certain this is what they feared. This broad and loose way of getting dissidents off the net opens the door for keeping "other types of criminals" off the net. That doesn't necessarily make sense to me now, but I have a feeling it will be no surprise when lobbyists start pushing and making headway with a list of "others".
  • Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by travelmug ( 1304549 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:24PM (#23711067)
    I guess the British Government has better things to worry about other than online predators and such. How about using the ISP's to look for them?
  • -1 Flamebait (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thtrgremlin ( 1158085 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:41PM (#23711319) Homepage Journal
    Only if P2P means "distributed networking for an illegal purpose". Did you even read further than your quoted portion?

    While your Mad Lib style Flamebait doesn't typically deserve a response, I am disgusted at the moderation of "Insightful", and seriously question its origin.
  • by Hijacked Public ( 999535 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @12:45PM (#23711409)
    It isn't at all ironic if you understand the point the parent is making.

    A right (what we're calling freedom in this case) is something you already have, it doesn't require anyone to give you anything. People who are too broke to buy an internet connection still have all of the listed rights. Government and corporations cannot give you rights, they can only take them away.

    This seems like pedantic nitpicking but it is a critical thing to understand when talking about rights, and losing them. The sentence in question cheapens them by equating their existence with a live internet connection.
  • Re:I agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dedazo ( 737510 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @04:10PM (#23714749) Journal
    Implying that we're all getting shipped off to the Gulag for using Azureus: Sensationalist

    Deliberately confusing copyright with freedom of speech and trying to make a point that it should be eliminated because you don't like it, when the problem is really in the enforcement: Disingenuous.

    Posting on the same thread with four different accounts and trolling Mactrope and willyhill: Dishonest.

    I would add that I feel that P2P traffic (or any type of traffic) should not be throttled, regulated, filtered or otherwise meddled with simply because the vast majority of it revolves around copyright infringement is wrong. However, that's also disingenuous because it ignores the problem and makes the case that it could be fixed if the people who produce the content would just be nice enough to bend over and enjoy it.

  • The obvious (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nfc_Death ( 915751 ) on Monday June 09, 2008 @06:04PM (#23716423)
    Clearly the sending of large mails-outs as well as possible subscriber losses would not be attempted or even conceived of by a money making entity, unless there were to be some financial benefit in the short term future. Since those actions in and of themselves only cost money, they must be a precursor to the actual money maker. We have yet to see what the next step in this horror will be. If this is not halted at the state its in the next step where they make money is gonna be awfully offensive.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.