Collateral damage in the copyright wars

I’m just back from Radio Scotland, where I took part in a discussion about the BPI’s legal action against file sharers. As it’s daytime radio, the angle was whether parents should be worried; the discussion featured two teenage music downloaders – neither of whom realised that sharing could land them in hot water – and a mother-of-two, who wasn’t entirely sure whether her teenage girls’ downloading was legal or illegal.

Should parents be worried? Absolutely. In many cases people don’t realise they’re breaking the law (especially if they pay for file sharing software – it’s understandable if they assume that if they pay for the program, then their downloads are legit), or they don’t realise they’re sharing hundreds of files with the entire internet; I’m sure that in some cases the first indication parents will have of any problem is when the legal letters come thudding through the door. By which time, of course, it’s too late to do anything.

Leaving aside the net community vs the evil record industry arguments, these people are the collateral damage in the copyright wars. They don’t know or necessarily care about the music industry, digital rights management, copyright law or anything else; however, they’re caught in the crossfire between the cynical companies who sell software based on copyright infringement, and the determination of the music business to break butterflies on a wheel.

It’s a thoroughly depressing situation, and while I think the music business should be ashamed of itself when it crows about relieving parents of two months’ wages, I think we should be equally appalled by the behaviour of some of the file sharing software firms whose profits ultimately depend on the financial ruin of their customers.

More than ever before, we need the entertainment industry, the software industry, the telecoms industry and possibly governments to knock some heads together and find a solution to the file sharing problem – because let’s face it, file sharing isn’t going away. My gut feeling is that a PRS-style royalty system and a small broadband tax would be the answer; there may be another, better, solution. I don’t care what it is, but we need to find a way to stop ordinary people from being caught in the crossfire of a war they didn’t even know was raging. This could – and should – have been solved years ago.

8 thoughts on “Collateral damage in the copyright wars

  1. Nigel says:

    Good “article”. Thought provoking. I’m new to MP3/WMA and currently exploring “ripping” my own (legal) CD’s and buying from legitimate on-line services (iTunes, Tesco etc). It’s great fun. It means I can regain my old “single days” of listening to my records on a hifi, using portable players and headphones, without disturbing sleeping children.

    The music industry has always wailed about piracy. Morally the basic premise is correct – you should not steal another’s work.

    I think the public’s trouble perceiving this is in part because the music industry – especially “popular” music – is often seen as a morally lacking, regularly debauched, booze and drug guzzling, extravagantly-spending bunch of people who seem unconcerned with the hours of hard work their “customers” need to do to pay for their lifestyle. Then when rich music companies wail of record losses (sic)it’s a bit hard to stomach.

    I am not so pompous as to recommend a “clean up” of the industry but before targetting certain vulnerable groups, other ways to secure a reliable, honest revenue should be explored.

  2. Gary says:

    I agree entirely. That’s why I think a broadband tax would be the answer: let’s say basic broadband is £15/month and p2p-friendly broadband is £20/month. Go for the cheaper option and the ISP blocks yer ports; go for the more expensive option and you can download whatever you like. I’m sure there are all kinds of flaws in the theory but it’s not dissimilar to what we already have for radio.

  3. david says:

    >>currently exploring “ripping” my own (legal) CD’s

    Remember if you’re in the UK that’s illegal.

    >>Go for the cheaper option and the ISP blocks yer ports; go for the more expensive option and you can download whatever you like.

    The other issue there though is bandwidth. People using filesharing tend to have a much higher use of bandwidth – which the ISPs are already surcharging.

  4. Gary says:

    You’d be out of luck unless you paid for the premium service. Can’t think of another way of getting round it from an ISP’s perspective.

  5. TonyK says:

    Of course, then the little guys that can’t afford to chase up BT for their share are screwed too.

  6. Gary says:

    BT as in bittorrent? Yeah, but that’s the flaw with any PRS-style model. You could get round it with a similar thing to photocopying licences (no, really). I got sixty quid in royalties the other day for photocopying by businesses, etc; i’d imagine it’s a big pot of cash that gets divvied up between registered writers. The same thing could work for music.

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