Music fans should not be prosecuted for illegally downloading MP3 files from the Internet insists an all-star cast of musicians.

Billy Bragg, Radiohead's Ed O'Brien and Blur's Dave Rowntree are among those breaking ranks with the majority of the record industry who frown upon the wide availability of music on blogs, forums and 'warez' sites.

The view was expressed at the first of a series of events under the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) banner, held at London club Heaven Wednesday night, which campaigns for the protection of performers' and musicians' rights.

FAC currently consists of 14O musicians including Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, Robbie Williams, Annie Lennox, Bryan Ferry, Kate Nash, White Lies and Billy Bragg.

Veteran singer-songwriter and political activist Bragg told The Independent newspaper that downloading music should not be classed as a crime.

"What I said at the meeting was that the record industry in Britain is still going down the road of criminalising our audience for downloading illegal MP3s," Bragg said.

"If we follow the music industry down that road, we will be doing nothing more than being part of a protectionist effort. It's like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube."

"Artists should own their own rights and they should decide when their music should be used for free, or when they should have payment."

Bragg confirmed that FAC planned to take their views to Lord Carter who is currently preparing wide-ranging ‘Digital Britain’ report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which among other things aims to tackle online piracy.

It is estimated music and film companies will lose £1 billion over the next five years due to piracy.

One of FAC's directors, Dave Rowntree, drummer with the recently reformed Blur, said in a statement earlier that the digital revolution offered a "fantastic opportunity" for musicians and fans alike.

"As this revolution gathers pace Featured Artists must seize the initiative. We are looking to forge a new deal, built on fairness, with our fans, the music industry and governments."

Radiohead's Ed O'Brien stressed the role that bands needed to play during a "defining time for the industry" was vital.

"A lot of the rights and revenue streams are being carved up, and we need a voice... I think all the major players want to hear what we have to say."

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