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INTERVIEW - Don't jail illegal music sharers - UN agency

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The heavy punishment of illegal file sharers on the web will be counter-productive in the global fight against Internet piracy and copyright infringement, the director-general of a United Nations agency said on Thursday.

Francis Gurry of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) said music copyright protection was “under the most severe stress” and the problem will likely spread to films as web connections speed up.

The music industry has been hit by rampant Internet piracy and has so far struggled to persuade consumers to pay for downloaded music.

Some 40 billion music files were illegally shared on the web in 2008, a piracy rate of 95 percent, WIPO cites industry estimates as showing.

“I don’t believe we are going to win this, (to) find the solution by putting teenagers in jail,” Gurry said in an interview on a visit to India. “I think that is not going to win public sympathy.”

“Part of the battle here is to sensitise the public to the fact that there is a real issue involved. It is not simply a victimless crime,” he added.

The rise in prosecutions of file sharers has seen some high profile cases carrying hefty fines.

Gurry cited the case of a student in the United States ordered to pay $675,000 for sharing 30 songs this year.

In another suit in April, four men behind The Pirate Bay, one of the world’s biggest free file-sharing websites, were sentenced to a year in jail and ordered to pay $3.6 million in compensation.

Gurry said there has been no clear answer to copyright protection though several schemes, such as a flat rate access charge to a large music database, have been put forward.

Governments such as Britain and France are pushing measures to clamp down on illegal file sharing to help the European recorded-music market, now worth about 7 billion euros ($10 billion) a year, compared with almost 12 billion euros in 2001.

On the heels of a French move, Britain will push ahead with punishments that could result in repeat offenders losing their net connection.

“There are a lot of signs that the copyright system is under the most severe stress in making the transition from the physical world to the digital world,” Gurry said.

“Now that the capacity, the bandwidth is improving, of course there’s going to be a similar issue for films,” he added.

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sanjeev Miglani)

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