By Nur Dianah Suhaimi
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Three Internet users have been arrested in Singapore and charged with distributing digital music files in the city-state's first crackdown on illegal file sharing, Singapore police said on Thursday.
The three young men who were arrested, between the ages of 16 to 22, had shared more than 20,000 files in internet chatrooms.
It was the first time Singapore police have clamped down on web surfers who download pirated music and films since new copyright laws came into effect in January this year.
Under the amended Copyright Act, anyone who illegally downloads files on a "commercial scale" could face criminal charges, including five years in jail and fines of up to S$100,000 (33,322 pounds).
Police were tipped off by the Record Industry Association of Singapore (RIAS), an association representing local and foreign record companies. The suspects used an Internet chat programme as well as a music-sharing programme to distribute the music files, a police statement said.
RIAS, which conducts constant checks to curb illegal file sharing told Reuters it has sent warning letters to those engaged in illegal file-sharing on the Internet.
"Prosecution was a last-resort measure," said RIAS Chief Executive Officer Andrew Neubronner.
Industry analysts say the rollout of high-speed broadband Internet in Asia, particularly in countries with high piracy rates like China, India and Indonesia, has sent the number of people downloading free music off the Web spiralling up by millions a month -- and recorded music sales to tumble.
Singapore has one of the world's highest Internet penetration rates, with over 60 percent of its 4.2 million people living in homes wired to the Internet.