Artists back Lily Allen on file-sharing

Community divided over solutions for infringers

LONDON -- After a three-hour meeting in London called by the Featured Artists Coalition, the artist community has reached an agreed position on tackling illegal file-sharing that would result in technical sanctions against persistent infringers.

It follows 10 days of division among the artist community, largely as a result of outspoken comments by U.K. pop star Lily Allen, who is particularly concerned about the effect of file-sharing on new artists. She condemned comments by some FAC members who had questioned U.K. government proposals that would result in suspension of Internet accounts.

However, the FAC position is not in line with the labels: both the BPI and indies trade body AIM are calling for the suspension of Internet access as the ultimate sanction.

Allen is not a member of the FAC, but she attended and spoke at the meeting at Air Studios on Thursday night and was cheered by many of the 100 artists. Allen had said via Twitter that she would not be there because of the "media frenzy" surrounding the issue, and she has closed down a blog to gather views of artists because the "abuse was getting too much."

Ahead of the Sept. 29 cutoff date for the government's consultation on the proposals, the FAC has now reiterated its wish not to see music lovers' Internet access cut, instead calling for a three-strikes law that would result in restrictions to persistent offenders' bandwidth levels to prevent P2P activity. However, it has not specified the exact type of technical measure -- options include bandwidth capping (limiting speed or traffic for a subscriber) and bandwidth shaping (limiting the speed and volume of data for specific services) -- or the duration of any sanctions.

Depending on the technical measures employed, it could also effect legitimate downloading and access to media files. Internet service providers have yet to comment, but the Internet Service Providers' Assn. has previously said it is unhappy with any system where government would decide on technical measures against individuals.

Following the meeting, a statement was signed by dozens of artists including George Michael, Radiohead's Ed O'Brien, Keane's Tim Rice-Oxley, Billy Bragg, Sandie Shaw, Blur drummer David Rowntree, Guy Chambers, Patrick Wolf, Fran Healy of Travis and Annie Lennox.

"We the undersigned wish to express our support for Lily Allen in her campaign to alert music lovers to the threat that illegal downloading presents to our industry and to condemn the vitriol that has been directed at her in recent days," said the statement.

"Our meeting also voted overwhelmingly to support a three-strike sanction on those who persistently download illegal files, sanctions to consist of a warning letter, a stronger warning letter and a final sanction of the restriction of the infringer's bandwidth to a level which would render file-sharing of media files impractical while leaving basic email and web access functional," the statement added. Allen was also a signatory.

Ed O'Brien told BBC News the meeting was "quite emotional" and said Allen was "extremely brave" to turn up.

"She's taken a lot of flak for what she's said. What she's done has been brilliant because she started the process where artists have stood up and said, you know what, there is a consequence to illegal file-sharing," he said. "In the meeting, we didn't always agree but we came to an agreement that we thought was good for everyone."