The British government said Wednesday that it would block persistent illegal file sharers' Internet connections by forcing service providers to pull the plug on lawbreakers.
Britons who repeatedly download music or films illegally would have their accounts suspended, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said, in an announcement that angered some Internet service providers.
Mandelson argued that illegal file-sharing was draining millions of pounds (dollars) from the creative industries and that the government "cannot sit back and do nothing."
"It is not a victimless act," he said. "It is a genuine threat."
A bill expected to become law next year would force Internet service providers to identify customers who swap files without respecting copyright restrictions. For the first year, rights-holders such as studios or labels could only threaten legal action. But by mid-2011, they could force the providers to kick repeat offenders off the Internet.
The British announcement follows French proposals to disconnect illegal file sharers. Last month France's lower house of parliament approved a bill that would allow authorities to cut off Internet access to people who download illegally, an attention-grabbing measure that has been hailed by the music and film industries.
French authorities have estimated as many as 1,000 French Internet users a day could be taken offline under the bill, but British officials said suspending customers' accounts would only be used "as a very last resort" and promised "an independent, clear and easy appeals process to ensure that the correct infringer is penalized."
Some British Internet service providers weren't convinced, with provider TalkTalk Telecom Ltd. calling the appeals process a "kangaroo court."
"What is being proposed is wrong in principle and it won't work in practice. We know this approach will lead to wrongful accusations," the company said in a statement.
BT PLC said it was disappointed that providers would have to meet some of the costs of disconnecting their customers themselves, calling it a "huge burden" and warning that broadband prices would rise as a result.
But the British Phonographic Industry, which represents the recorded music industry, backed Mandelson's proposals, saying the law would "help the legal digital market to grow for consumers."
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimates it loses billions of dollars worldwide from online piracy, far more than it makes from legal Internet sales.