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British pop divided in file sharing debate

LONDON, Sept 21 (Reuters Life!) - Top British pop acts disagreed on Monday over how to tackle illegal file sharers, with singer Lily Allen challenging a new statement from a group of artists that includes Annie Lennox and Radiohead. At the centre of the debate is a government proposal to block people who repeatedly download music illegally from file-sharing sites from accessing the Web.

The proposals outlined last month included requiring Internet Service Providers to take action against individual repeat offenders, reducing broadband speeds or temporarily suspending an individual’s Internet account.

Featured Artists Coalition, which counts Robbie Williams and Tom Jones, as well as Lennox and Radiohead, among its dozens of members, said in a statement on Monday that the proposals would cut off an important source of promotion.

“By demanding blanket suspension powers from the government, the industry is in danger of cutting off a promotional tool that is of great use to fledgling artists who seek to create a buzz around themselves yet don’t have the financial support of a major label,” FAC said.

It added that the government could only enforce its proposals through a “wide-scale invasion of personal privacy”.

FAC said it did not condone illicit file sharing, which the music industry and many artists blame for eating into revenues, and described web sites benefitting commercially from the practice as “thieving rascals” who should be prosecuted.

It believes the answer to illegal file-sharing lies in the way the industry remunerates artists and in educating the public about why they should pay singers who make the music they love.

In a new blog site set up to debate the issue of illegal file sharing, Allen, who has won backing from the likes of James Blunt for her stance on the issue, said the FAC’s latest statement “just doesn’t make sense”.

"The FAC seems to be viewing the government's proposed legislation as an attack on freedom and liberty, but stealing's not really a human right, is it?" she wrotehere.

“The proposal is to look at P2P (peer-to-peer) sites -- which are public anyway -- to identify people who are acting unlawfully, so they can be asked, and then made, to stop. Not really an attack on civil liberties there,” she added.

In recent years, pop stars have increasingly turned to live performances and merchandising to make up for financial losses caused by illegal downloading.

But composer Bjorn Ulvaeus, of ABBA fame, argued recently that for many songwriters, performing is not an option.

“Patronising crusaders for the right to file share say: ‘Why don’t they go on tour and sing for their supper?’,” he wrote in a column for the Times newspaper earlier this month.

“This argument shows a staggering ignorance of the fact that the people who write the songs are, more often than not, not performers. They are producers and songwriters, full stop.” (Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)