Tough financial penalties have been handed out to internet users who illegally download music files, and employers have been warned to block access to such sites or risk fines and damaged reputations.
Earlier this month, the British Phonographic Industry meted out fines of more than 50,000 to a total of 23 users who had downloaded music tracks from the internet, violating the intellectual property rights of the publishers.
Organisations will be responsible for legal bills and court action if their employees are caught illegally downloading music and movies while at work, lawyers and IT experts have noted.
"Too often, sharing music files is trivialised at work," said John Tomlinson, managing director of St Bernard Software. "But as the recent British Phonographic Industry ruling shows, a laissez-faire approach by employers could lead to serious consequences."
More than 200 million tracks were legally downloaded last year, with stars such as US rapper 50 Cent proving popular. But this number is still dwarfed by illegal downloads, which reached 700 million in 2004, meaning the financial risk for employers remains high.
Illegal downloading could also have implications for IT security, allowing viruses and bugs to enter networks, according to experts.