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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.