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U2 Manager: Cut Off Illegal Downloaders From Internet

Music fans who indulge in widespread illegal file-sharing should have their Web connections cut off by Internet service providers, the manager of U2 said.

Paul McGuinness, who has guided the Irish group to 150 million album sales during their 30-year career, said companies such as Yahoo! and AOL should be prosecuted if they fail to prevent illegal file-sharing.

"A simple three strikes and you are out enforcement process will see all serial illegal uploaders who resist the law face a stark choice: change or lose your ISP subscription," said McGuinness at the Midem music industry convention in Cannes, France.

"In the U.K., the Gowers report [which examined file-sharing and intellectual property in 2006] made it clear that legislation should be considered if voluntary talks with ISPs failed to produce a commitment to disconnect file-sharers," he added. "I'd like to see the U.K. Government act promptly on this recommendation."

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The U.K. music trade body, the British Phonographic Association, backed the call.

"We have tried to persuade ISPs to implement solutions that could avoid the need to take action against broadband customers who use illegal peer-to-peer filesharing," said BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor.

"For more than a year, we have been negotiating with them to enforce their own terms and conditions about abuse of the account, but U.K. ISPs refuse to do even that on any meaningful scale," Taylor continued. "The time has come for ISPs to stop dragging their feet and start showing some responsibility by taking reasonable steps to counter illegal music freeloading."

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has backed the Olivennes initiative, named after the head of the French music-retailing giant FNAC, under which ISPs will start disconnecting repeat infringers this year.

This was a "brilliant precedent which other governments should follow," McGuinness said.

McGuinness argued that the recent Radiohead release of a downloaded album priced on the "honesty-box" principle had backfired.

"It seems that the majority of downloads were through illegal P2P download services like BitTorrent and LimeWire even though the album was available for nothing through the official band site," said McGuinness. "Notwithstanding the promotional noise, even Radiohead's honesty box principle showed that if not constrained, the customer will steal music."

In 2004, U2 signed a deal with Apple to release a branded iPod in exchange for a percentage of each device sold. But even Steve Jobs, the Apple boss, had not grasped the scale of the challenge to his own business presented by illegal downloading, argued McGuinness.

"I wish he would bring his remarkable set of skills to bear on the problems of recorded music," said McGuinness. "He's a technologist, a financial genius, a marketer and a music lover. He probably doesn't realize it, but the collapse of the old financial model for recorded music will also mean the end of the songwriter.

"We've been used to bands who wrote their own material since the Beatles, but the mechanical royalties that sustain songwriters are drying up," said McGuinness. "Labels and artists, songwriters and publishers, producers and musicians — everyone's a victim."

The manager predicted that Apple would unveil an iTunes subscription service that connects to "all of the music, wherever you are."

"I would like it to succeed, if the content is fairly paid for," he said.

U2 will release a new album in October, McGuinness said, which would be a collaboration with the producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Unlike Radiohead, they are not seeking to leave their record company.

McGuinness said that the band had a positive relationship with Universal which would continue indefinitely.

Described as the "fifth member" of U2, McGuinness negotiated a valuable deal in the late '80s that guaranteed the group ownership of the master recordings of their albums, unusual in the record industry.