The Government is said to be close to publishing plans for a new law that would force internet service providers (ISPs) to trawl their networks for file sharers and ban them from using their service.
The then-minister for intellectual property Lord Triesman said in January that such legislation would be brought in the autumn if ISPs and the music industry could not reach voluntary agreement. A leak to The Times newspaper has now revealed that plans for the new law will be made public next week.
The music industry, represented by the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), has recently called for ISPs to monitor their networks and take action against people who infringe their members' copyright.
File sharing of music and films without making any payment remains a growing problem and music industry sales continue to fall. U2 manager Paul McGuinness recently accused ISPs of profiting from the exploitation of artists' work.
The new proposal will mean that ISPs will be legally obliged to take action against people it knows are engaging in file sharing. The most likely recommendation, said The Times, is that ISPs will have to monitor subscribers' internet use and give them two chances before disconnection.
They will be emailed once, suspended a second time and then cut off completely if they do not change their file sharing behaviour.
An estimated six million people in the UK engaged in file sharing last year, and could risk being cut off from the internet under the plan.
Any solution to the problem will involve identifying who is and who is not file sharing, a difficult technical task which some claim is impossible.
Such action has been long-rumoured, and intellectual property lawyer Kim Walker of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, told OUT-LAW Radio last week that ISPs faced difficulties when contemplating a change in the law.
"The main risk is that if the ISP is trying to take technological measures to filter and identify infringing material then it loses its safe harbour defence," he said, referring to the fact that ISPs are mostly not liable for users' actions as long as they do not know about them.
"It is immediately giving itself actual knowledge that there is infringing material up there and I think that the ISPs feel that they are therefore opening themselves up to potential liability as infringers," said Walker.
The move has looked increasingly likely as international pressure has mounted. A Belgian court recently ordered ISP Scarlett to filter its traffic to stop file sharing. France will this summer trial a system by which ISPs will be forced to block users who are file sharing.
BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said that the content industry had tried to reach agreement with ISPs, but that negotiations had broken down.
"We simply want ISPs to advise customers if their account is being used to distribute music illegally, and then, if the advice is ignored, enforce their own terms and conditions about abuse of the account," he said. "But despite some agreements in principle, the ISPs refuse to do this on any meaningful scale."