Five major Dutch Internet providers agreed Monday to cooperate in a crackdown on illegal file sharing, saying they will send warnings to clients suspected of swapping copyrighted music, film and software files.
The providers said they will forward letters from the Brain Institute, which represents the entertainment industry in the Netherlands, warning clients that sharing copyrighted material is against the law.
The decision was a compromise, because the providers refused to reveal customers' names or addresses directly to the Brain Institute.
"This is a service, a warning to clients that they are doing things that are against the law," said Maaike Scholten, spokeswoman for providers HetNet and Planet Internet, two of the five Internet providers.
Scholten said the companies hope the warnings will dampen illegal file sharing and prevent their customers from ending up in court.
In December 2003, the Dutch Supreme Court set an international precedent by ruling that software used to share files was legal. But it didn't rule out that individuals could be prosecuted for using such software to share copyrighted works.
The decision left the Brain Institute in a similar position as the American recording industry, which has sued song-swappers for tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
The Brain Institute — a popular target of Dutch hackers — was founded in 1998 to fight what the entertainment industry sees as piracy and copyright infringement.
It can trace the Internet addresses of computers that are being used to trade files but has no way of finding out who owns them without a court order.
Director Tim Kuik said it will use the letters to demand that downloaders pay for songs and other material they have downloaded in the past.
"We'll see what happens to them if they don't pay," Kuik said, adding that he expected the institute to eventually sue some users.
He declined to say how much money the institute would demand as compensation for illegal downloads.
At least one major Dutch provider, XS4ALL, said it would not cooperate with the Brain Institute.
"They never even asked us," said spokeswoman Judith van Erven. "I guess they know where we stand."
She said XS4ALL, pronounced "Access for All," was "not an enforcement arm of the entertainment industry."