“Let’s shoot the messenger!” say record labels

It’s not exactly a shock, but in the next few weeks the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) is going to change the focus of its anti-piracy activities. Instead of suing the people who actually trade songs illegally, the IFPI wants to sue ISPs. It’s a bit like suing the Royal Mail over chain letters, or BT over annoying calls from your ex.

Naturally, the IFPI really doesn’t want to do this. It would much rather sue individual file sharers and run the risk of heavy legal costs if prosecutions are unsuccessful, run the risk of suing people who can’t afford to pay anyway, and run the risk of its inflated claims for damages being exposed in court (typically the record labels want thousands of pounds per song, but the wholesale price of a single digital track is around 70p).

It’ll work like this: the IFPI will contact an ISP and say “Bobby’s file sharing. You must kill his account or we will sue you for very many pounds.” If ISPs don’t immediately cave in, they face very expensive legal action. Because they’re companies, it doesn’t matter whether Bobby is guilty or innocent; they’ll have to pay the legal costs anyway.

As you can probably guess, I’m not a fan of this move – not least because it means the IFPI no longer needs to actually prove in court that someone’s file sharing. In essence it’s extortion: kill this account or we’ll make you pay.

ISPs are mere carriers, and with some very few exceptions they shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of their users (the exceptions are obvious wrongs such as child pornography; I agree that ISPs should block such things, but it’s up to government to mandate that). Effectively the IFPI wants to enlist ISPs as its unpaid policemen.

I’ve said before, there’s an easy answer to this: blanket licensing for file sharing. ISPs pay royalties to the record labels and in return, their users can file share to their heart’s content; ISPs would then recover the money by charging higher access fees. If you don’t want to pay those fees, your ISP blocks the relevant ports for file sharing applications, bittorrent and so on or simply applies a very low monthly bandwidth cap. Yes, that means the odd legit file sharer won’t be able to file share without paying extra, but that’s not necessarily unfair: if you’re sharing Linux ISOs or whatever you’re using serious bandwidth anyway.

There’s another answer, too: stop selling downloads with bloody DRM. Then people like me would actually buy digital downloads instead of file sharing today and then buying the CD when it finally comes out.

11 thoughts on ““Let’s shoot the messenger!” say record labels

  1. rutty says:

    Typical business bully-boy tactics. I’m sure that it’s not just record industry that does this – Cisco have tried it on with Apple recently like I’m sure that Apple have done the same with someone else. It’s disgusting behaviour but when you’ve got shareholders to keep happy you’ll sell your soul to Simon Cowell to make a profit.

    I use eMusic for my downloads. DRM-free MP3s from Independent labels. No good for Girls Aloud but perhaps you might need to expand your music collection with some decent stuff for once ;¬)

    I use it for Jazz at the moment but there’s plenty of interesting stuff in most genres there

  2. mupwangle says:

    >>Cisco have tried it on with Apple recently

    Everything I’ve seen indicates that it’s the other way around.

  3. Gary says:

    No good for Girls Aloud but perhaps you might need to expand your music collection with some decent stuff for once ;¬)

    That’s fighting talk!

  4. Gary says:

    Actually, I don’t know whether it’ll happen this year but there do seem to be rumblings that the record firms are losing faith in DRM. I’m sure that’s more motivated by fear of Apple calling the shots than any desire to give consumers what they want, though.

  5. Squander Two says:

    > when you’ve got shareholders to keep happy you’ll sell your soul to Simon Cowell to make a profit.

    Thing is, their strategy isn’t making them profits. It’s losing them customers.

  6. Stephen says:

    Actually it does seem like Cisco are trying it on with Apple. See, the thing with trademarks is, you have to actually use them once you register them. The courts take a dim view of trademarking a name and keeping it in the safe until someone else wants it, then trying to shake them down. Cisco have had the trademark for ten years and never used it until a month or so after Apple approached them about it. Apparently their proof of use to the court was a picture of some random product with an “iPhone” sticker stuck on the packaging (not even on the product).

    The other thing about trademarks is that you have to police them yourself: if you let others use it without complaining, it is assumed you are no longer interested in the trademark. The name “iPhone” has been used on a number of products over the years, including a widely-distributed hotel telephony product.

    So Cisco are trying to shake down Apple. I don’t think Jobs would have gone ahead and announced the name before reaching a settlement with Cisco if he wasn’t fairly confident that their case is pretty groundless.

  7. mupwangle says:

    Apple are being accused (in court) of some particularly shady attempts to undermine the orginal negotiations (which have been going on since 2001 by all accounts) including using front companies in other countries to file petitions to revoke the trademark.

    >>I don’t think Jobs would have gone ahead and announced the name before reaching a settlement with Cisco if he wasn’t fairly confident that their case is pretty groundless.

    Or if he wasn’t incredibly arrogant.

  8. Stephen says:

    >Apple are being accused (in court) of some particularly shady attempts to undermine the orginal negotiations (which have been going on since 2001 by all accounts) including using front companies in other countries to file petitions to revoke the trademark.

    Well, that’s kind of what lawyers do. They go to court accusing the other side of anything and everything, putting the most negative interpretation possible on the facts, and it’s then up to the court to sort out the facts from the hyperbolic claims, and make its ruling. But whatever Cisco’s lawyers might say about Apple’s motives and tactics, the facts I alluded to earlier are incontrovertable: Cisco did not make meaningful use of the trademarked term, and did not stop others using it.

    Their strategy seems a pretty transparent attempt to distract from those facts and say to the court “even though we screwed up, the other guys are really not nice, and you should be nice to us to make up for it”.

    Jobs might be arrogant, but I don’t think he’s stupid: being forced to withdraw the iPhone’s name after the highest-profile product launch in Apple’s history would be pretty disastrous.

  9. Squander Two says:

    > Well, that’s kind of what lawyers do. They go to court accusing the other side of anything and everything

    Well, yeah. But, even if Apple did do all those things, they’re still in the right on the iPhone case. It’s a diluted trademark.

    > Apple are being accused (in court) of some particularly shady attempts to undermine the orginal negotiations

    The original negotiations were, in effect, a gesture of good faith and niceness by Apple. Since Cisco have already allowed the trademark to be diluted, Apple or anyone else who wants to can just go ahead and use it for free, negotiations be damned. In effect, most of the undermining of the negotiations was done by Cisco long before the negotiations even started.

  10. Gary says:

    At least one analyst’s suggesting that this is a deliberate move by apple to get lots of free publicity, and that it’ll ultimately cave in. That one’s a bit too out-there for me.

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