Virgin Media (NSDQ: VMED) is to trial software to measure the extent of illegal file-sharing among its customers, as part of its music subscription service JV with Universal. Virgin will be the first company to use new technology from UK firm Detica, which claims to anonymously track copyright infringement. Release.
Stamping out piracy will help Virgin’s paid-for music hopes, but this is a political gesture as much as an operational one: as the government works to pass legislation that would oblige ISPs to disconnect the very worst piracy offenders, ISPs are keen to show that there are alternatives to disconnection — the company has made it clear it would consider temporarily suspending customers who break the law on its own terms.
It’s not good for business to cut off your customers: so Virgin has already funded research showing that P2P pirates buy more music that non-pirates. This latest move is designed to say: “We’ve got this under control.” Virgin points out that Digital Britain proscribed mandatory piracy monitoring systems under the watchful eye of Ofcom anyway, so this is acting voluntarily to do something it may be forced to do later on.
Perhaps noting the challenge the Labour government faces to get the Digital Communications Bill through in this parliament, Virgin refers to the laws, “should they become law“.
A word of warning: considering the uproar surrounding on-net behavioural targeting technology Phorm — which Virgin hasn’t quite ruled out deploying — the company risks annoying a good many of its customers by installing software that observes their behaviour, even if it’s all anonymous (Phorm said its WebWise system was anonymous) and the idea is to only observe illegal behaviour. Detica stresses it’s a “fully automated, closed system which does not identify individuals or store their data.”