In a joint announcement this morning, music industry groups the IFPI and BPI announced plans to litigate against the most prolific file uploaders here.

Action has begun against 28 individuals so far, but the industry leaders stressed that the intention is to underline the message that music "should be paid for", and that concerted global action isn't simply planned - it's taking place.

Legal actions have begun. The industry knows the IP addresses of its first UK target file sharers, and is asking the courts today for the power to secure their names and addresses from their ISPs.

The industry will then launch civil proceedings against the accused. Meeting with press this morning, representatives avoided specifying what kind of financial remedies they seek, but in the US such remedies amount to thousands of dollars per track.

Cases have already begun in Austria (100 cases), Denmark (174), France (50), Germany (100) and seven in Italy.

You have been warned

BPI chairman Peter Jamieson said: "We have been warning for months that unauthorized file-sharing is illegal. These are not people casually downloading the odd track. They are uploading music on a massive scale, effectively stealing the livelihood of thousands of artists and the people who invest in them."

Whether file-sharing has caused lost sales or not, the industry feels it needs to act. In 1999, 80.1 million singles were sold in the UK. The market has collapsed. Just 36.4 million singles were sold in 2003. "It's shrunk", said Jamieson, "but the UK record industry remains a vital force in music and entertainment worldwide."

Platform-agnostic dreams

Sony this week announced its intention to stop issuing rights-protected CDs. This isn't a trend, but does reflect an industry need. "There's no cross-industry consensus on rights management on CDs," said Jamieson, "what we do know is that we need a system that works on all platforms."

IFPI chairman and CEO Jay Berman confirmed that, at least as regards CDs, the industry does not want to force music fans to use specific platforms. "That makes no sense", he said, "But we need the technology industry to do this."

"It's hard, but we are talking with them", he said, mentioning Apple and Microsoft by name. "These talks continue", he said.

Pan-European dreams

While the music industry may dream of platform agnosticism, tech industry fantasies revolve around pan-European copyright clearance systems. While certain infrastructures exist to support this, the music business isn't prioritizing such a move.

Internationally-renowned producer, Peter Waterman, also present at this morning's event, explained why: "There are so many levels of copyright. There's the artist's copyright, the publisher's copyright and the label copyright. It's very complicated.

"And I don't believe a musician should be forced to release their tracks online across Europe if they don't want to. It sometimes makes more sense for an artist to agree to this in one or two countries, it's the artist's right to distribute their music as they wish," Waterman explained.

Ownership of copyright on a single track can sit in multiple hands across multiple territories. Many artists will sign their recording deal with one label in one country and with someone else in another territory - and the labels pay a fee for each territory. The same rule applies within publishing.

A pan-European agreement that bought music to market digitally across the state would limit artist's freedom to negotiate in multiple territories, and because their music would already be available in another country, could potentially limit the fees an artist could charge for their music.

"Theft is theft"

The US recording industry has acted against 5,700 file sharers so far, but raised an outcry when it litigated against a 12-year old girl, which was later settled by her mother.

This could happen here.

IFPI chairman Jay Berman was adamant: "We don't screen for political correctness. We go on the basis of IP addresses. We do not know who it is, it is based on their Internet activity," he said.

Waterman added: "What we do know is they have broadband connections, which means they are able to pay for them". While this raised laughter, it underlined the point - the music industry expects parents to be responsible for their children's actions.

Berman added: "A 12 year-old shoplifter is still a shoplifter. Is there an age at which it's OK to steal?"

In a statement, HMV Europe managing director and chairman of the British Association of record dealers, Steve Knott, said: "The serial uploaders who post thousands of music files free of charge on the Internet are stealing this product in exactly the same way as a shoplifter in a music store. Theft on this scale cannot be allowed to continue unchecked."

The BPI's Jamieson stressed: "We have resisted legal action as long as we could", he said. "We have done everything we can to raise awareness of this problem. We have encouraged legal services and launched an Official Download Chart.

"We would be derelict in our duty to protect and promote British music were we not to take action to demonstrate that this activity is ilegal and harmful to every aspect of the creative British music industry."

Who is in the firing line?

The BPI believes that just 15 per cent of file sharers are responsible for 75 per cent of the music files illegally uploaded online. It also believes that after a year of downloading, music fans buy 32 per cent less albums and 59 per cent fewer singles.

Legal services, such as iTunes, are seeing mass adoption in the UK. Sales have climbed from 15,000 per week at the beginning of the year to 300,000 per week now. Over 30 legal services exist today, with iTunes, Wippit, eMusic and Trackitdown catering for the musical needs of Mac users.

Factory Record and In The City music convention founder, Tony Wilson, spread vitriol against the practice: "Once upon a time there was a shortage of fully working legal download sites, now, that's gone. There are enough outlets for people to buy their music online.

"I am always amazed that the people who profess to love music are prepared to pay their council tax to politicians they don't like, their bank charges to bankers they despise, but choose to rip-off and steal from the musicians who are supposedly the great influences in their lives."

Weapons of music destruction found

UK government arts minister Estelle Morris added her support to the campaign, saying: "Piracy is theft - pure and simple. Whether it's Jamelia or a jobbing musician, the artist suffers. We owe it to them to make sure they get a fair return for their creativity, flair and inspiration.

UK MEP Arlene McCarthy added: "There is no upside to illegal uploading - it undermines jobs and creativity."

UK government music Tsar Feargal Sharkey said: "I find it extraordinary, given the fact that 60 per cent of musicians and 94 per cent of songwriters in the UK receive less than £10,000 per year in royalty payments, that we are prepared to ask musicians and songwriters to turn up to work everyday and not get paid for it.

"Especially since all that many of those musicians and songwriters are trying to do is to make the world the rest of us live in a more valuable, much brighter place.

Music matters

The music industry is based on making hit records - and more records are released each year that miss. The successful releases effectively sponsor music from developing artists. And it's the successful tracks that are most downloaded online.

Berman explained: "It's a hit business. Just one-in-ten records makes money. It's that one in ten record that supports investment in new artists."