If the internet is the Wild West of the digital age, musicians need protection – step forward the self-styled Web Sheriff

… “These days, any new album by a major artist tends to break on the internet anything between two and four months before its official release,” says John Giacobbi, the managing director of Web Sheriff. “So if you do nothing about it, by the time the record hits the stores, you’ve lost half your sales.”To combat this, Web Sheriff has a team of 20 operatives, working in shifts, which monitors online activity round the clock. In recent campaigns on behalf of major-label acts they claim a 98 per cent “takedown rate” of websites offering unauthorised access to pre-release material. They also monitor the more specialist BitTorrent community – a couple of hundred sites utilising high-powered technology which enables users to download a whole album in a matter of minutes. The peer-to-peer networks such as Limewire – “vast and viral” – are also monitored and policed, as are online retail sites, the most prominent being eBay. The company charges anything from £1,000 to £7,000 a month to provide the service.

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