A band such as The Beatles would not be able to emerge in the UK in 10 years time because of the «cataclysmic consequences» of internet piracy, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has warned.
Lord Lloyd-Webber, opening a debate on the issue, described the internet as a «Somalia of unregulated theft and piracy».
He called on the Government to take action to safeguard the future of the creative industries before it was too late.
«The question that occurs to me is whether in 10 years time Britain would be a place that say The Beatles could have emerged from,» he told peers.
«Will Britain be a fertile environment for all creative talent? Will Britain be a place where music, TV, film, games and publishing companies are sufficiently healthy to invest in British creative talent and take it to the rest of the world?
«No. Not in a world where there are no longer shops where you can buy the physical products and the internet is a sort of Somalia of unregulated theft and piracy.«
He said that history, including the recent banking crisis, had shown there are «dire consequences when people drift down the path of unregulated behaviour».
Lord Lloyd-Webber said: «It is estimated that 7.3 million people in the UK — 28% of the online population — are now engaged in illegal peer-to-peer file sharing, a figure that is projected to rise to 8.7 million by 2012 if action is not taken.»
He told peers that he did not have the answers but wanted to «draw attention to the cataclysmic consequences for all creative industries if this area remains unregulated».
Lord Lloyd-Webber said that internet service providers (ISPs) «contribute nothing to the creative industries they undermine».
He said: «Our internet service providers deliver excellent facilities that help so many people in so many ways. But we need to remember that one of the principal reasons for their popularity is that they search out information and creative content that people want.»
He added: «Internet service providers could help themselves. They are able to control the bandwidth traffic when it suits them.
«They are not going to change without regulation because otherwise the good players will lose customers to the bad players, but I wonder how long this would be tolerated.
«People have just got into the habit of talking glibly about content providers as though they were some sort of optional part of the process.
«Red wines in France are not content providers for the glass manufacturing business. Britain’s creative industries are not content providers for broadband.»
Former Director-General of the BBC Lord Birt, echoed Lord Lloyd-Webber’s concerns about internet piracy.
The crossbench peer, chairman of the record company EMI’s holding company, said the music industry «has been slower than most to reinvent itself and to take advantage of new opportunities for discovering talent and better serving businesses and consumers».
But he told peers: «Stealing music in digital form is just as immoral as stealing a CD from Tesco.»
He said that ISPs should be «regulated and licensed» and added: «Governments need rapidly to bring order to this lawless environment, if serious damage to society and the economy is to be avoided and if moral relativism is not to become entrenched.»