The British Phonographic Industry are considering taking legal action against music fans who illegally download music from the internet...

British music fans could soon face the same huge lawsuits about to hit those in the US targeted for file-sharing.

Responding to the news that the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) planned to sue individuals who swap music over the internet, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) admitted that “litigation can’t be ruled out” for British users.

That means that thousands of NME.COM readers who regularly use the internet to burn off songs, or to listen to an album before buying it, could end up with huge fines and a criminal record.

Last week, the RIAA announced that they would gather evidence against users of ‘peer-to-peer’ software and file $150,000 (£90,000) lawsuits against them.

The organisation, which represents huge record companies such as Sony, Vivendi Universal, AOL Time Warner and EMI, said it will target the heaviest users.

“We’re going to begin taking names and preparing lawsuits against peer-to-peer network users who are illegally making available a substantial number of music files to millions of other computer users,” said RIAA President Cary Sherman.

“What is happening in America shouldn’t come as a surprise,” BPI Communications Manager Sarah Roberts told NME.COM. “America is further down the line in terms of legitimate services, such as the Apple application. And they are further ahead with broadband, which helps illegitimate downloads.

“But as a last resort, litigation can’t be ruled out in this country.”

So far, the BPI has only taken out one major suit against illegal file sharing in Britain. The organisation sued easyinternetcafe, part of easygroup, for £1million. They were charging users £5 to access songs on the internet and then burn them onto CDs. easygroup were finally ordered to pay £80,000 plus costs.

Sarah Roberts says that the BPI are more interested in education than taking punitive action.

“We have done some things in terms of education,” she said. “We sent information to colleges and workplaces – common-sense stuff, really – to see if they are protecting their systems and blocking the software on their machines. We also gave information on sites that offer a legitimate service.”

An estimated billion tracks are swapped online in Britain each year. And while Roberts admits it’s a serious problem that needs addressing, she refuses to join those sounding the death-knell for the music industry in Britain.

“Well, you know there were sales of sheet music before there were wax cylinders before there was vinyl. The music industry exists because of technology,” she said. “All the other aspects, the finding of talent etc – remain the same. It may be going through a difficult time at the moment, but the industry will adapt and survive as it always has done.”