Piracy problems need realistic solutions

Blog Feb 18, 2011

A new report about piracy has again shown that many in the creative industries are too obsessed with sticks and don't think enough about carrots.

Once again I am reduced to despair by noises coming from individuals within the music industry about how illegal file-sharing should be dealt with.

This time the comments are included in a report from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). I would like to point out, though, that there are many people within the IFPI and its British equivalent, the BPI, who actually have very sensible and realistic attitudes towards the problem of piracy.

However, it is clear that some in the industry have a somewhat myopic view of the situation, demanding that others should take action and offering, at best, ill-considered solutions.

It has long been the case that the music industry has considered it to be the responsibility of the ISPs to police their networks for anyone sharing copyrighted content illegally - this is like holding road-builders responsible for people driving dangerously.

ISPs have always seemed willing to help out the music and film industries in the quest to find the real criminals - those uploading the content - but rightly argue that they should not have to incur the costs. And why should the ISPs have to pay to protect the profit margins of another industry?

But some in the creative industries argue that ISPs profit from illegal downloading. This is wide of the mark - the amount of traffic generated by file-sharing can actually impact on other customers, making them unhappy and likely to go elsewhere. Also, ISPs can apply charges for customers that go over download limits but someone who does a lot of illegal downloading is unlikely to be on such a package - surely they'd be taking an unlimited deal?

So the music industry has decided that rather than the suppliers it is the users they want to punish. This seems to defy logic - it's like locking up everyone who has the occasional spliff while ignoring the barons importing tonnes of illegal substances.

But many in the music industry still seem determined to bury their heads in the sand, saying that file-sharers should be cut off, without sparing a thought for how this process can be implemented in such a way that anyone accused is dealt with fairly. One particularly short-sighted comment in the report comes from Stephen Garrett of Kudos, the TV company that has brought us unarguably brilliant shows such as Spooks.

"The French law is absolutely right. It's all very well to talk about consumer rights and people's rights to the internet, but equally we, the content owners and creators, have the right to be rewarded for our work," he said.

"I think that squeezing someone's bandwidth and ultimately cutting off that tiny percentage who persist seems to be quite a fair balance between competing rights," Garrett goes on.

This is all very well, but Garrett seems to be missing the point somewhat. The problem with the French Hadopi law is that innocent people who have unwittingly been the victims of Wi-Fi 'piggybacking' could be cut off from the web without a chance to plead their case.

So, the French law is not absolutely right at all.

The report goes on to talk about carrots as well as sticks - but isn't this backward thinking? Surely the fight against piracy should begin with putting together some compelling services with fairly priced music on offer, where buyers know that the royalties are being paid to artists and profits aren't being creamed off by fat cat executives?

Once these services are in place, then think about what to do with persistent pirates. An educational programme would be good - help people to realise that their perceptions of the music industry are wrong. The reality of the situation is that most musicians struggle to make a living and though not entirely extinct, the money-grabbing industry execs keeping all the money earned by others are largely a thing of the past.

Then, if people still persist in downloading illegally, think about punishing them. What we don't need is unfair laws where someone can be punished for the actions of another without even having the chance to defend themselves.