Yesterday’s ‘net piracy deal’ was a pointless fudge and everybody knows it

Fri, 25 Jul 2008, 12:44pm

Yesterday, we reported on the new deal on net piracy between the BPI (British Phonographic Industry), the Motion Picture Association of America, and the six biggest Internet companies in the UK.

The deal obliges the web companies – BT, Orange, Virgin, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse – to “work towards a significant reduction” of illegal downloading of music and films. This will be achieved, it seems, through sending letters to the most “prolific” illegal downloaders, informing them of certain legal objections to their behaviour.

After last night’s by-election catastrophe it seems harsh to stomp on the broken bones of a dying government, but it's somehow appropriate that the government was the only organisation yesterday hailing the new deal as a success and actually seeming like they meant it. Idiots.

The new deal is not a success. It’s a fudge, a cop-out and a compromise – a toothless technique for avoiding the real issues raised by downloading (illegal  and otherwise), and its effect on the content industries.

Let me spell out what’s really happened here, and why the extensive coverage for this deal in yesterday’s media was a bit like suggesting a state funeral after the death of a particularly uninteresting duck:

First, as a result of downloading, the music and film industries – despite being continually advised to pack their bags and emigrate to  the 21st century – are fluctuating between fits of strenuous denial and lying on the ground crying like the victims of a particularly brutal game of sudden-death hop-skotch.

They’ve been crying to teacher – or in other words, whingeing at the government.

Secondly, the government wants to do as little as possible. Or rather, it wants to make a nice, media-friendly announcement that looks as if it's doing something, while actually doing nothing at all.

In this, the government has been successful. Unlike, say, last night’s by-election.

Lastly, the internet service providers are in the unenviable position of having a toothless government sidle up to them like some kind of deranged Uriah Heep, telling them to do something, anything, to get those annoying music biz types off their back. “I mean, they keep going to the toilet and coming back talking too fast: we can’t keep up!”

Sure, the government has “threatened” legislation to deal with illegal downloading. But it’s completely obvious that ministers would rather eat their own knees than bring in actual laws making criminals out of large swathes of the otherwise law-abiding population, while at the same time severely restricting and censoring a new and hugely positive technological development that they just about appreciate but barely understand.

The internet companies have said, quite reasonably: we do not want to punish our own customers, and we shouldn’t have to act like policemen anyway.

The government has said: But…. PLEASE!

So the web companies said: Oh, alright, you sniveling little gits.

And as a result, we have this pointless "deal". To avoid the threat of legislation that might out-do even the poll tax for rank stupidity, the ISPs have agreed to do the something that is nothing. No-one knows exactly the wording of the letters they will send out to prolific downloaders, but if you read between the lines, the underlying message will certainly be this:

“Dear Valued Customer,

We are writing to gently inform you that while you were downloading 1,250,000 MP3s over the last two years from various file-sharing sites without paying a penny for them, you were…, well… how can we put this… breaking some silly old law or other.

We know! We couldn’t believe it either.  Now don’t you worry, you dear valued customer, you. You lovely, cuddly, always-paying-your-steep-monthly-subscription-via-direct-debit-exactly-on-time, gorgeous and highly valued customer. Oh no. Don’t you worry about a thing.

Because, we’re not actually going to do anything about it.  Not only are we not going to punish you for downloading copyrighted material without so much of a by-your-leave or eight quid off your debit card; other than sending you this carefully written and delicately-scented letter, we’re not going to actually do anything at all!

In fact, dear valued customer; oh lovely and sexy user of our service who contributes so fabulously to our staggering profits. You may wonder whether there was any point in sending you this letter at all.

And the answer is... no. There wasn’t.

So, as you were, dear, wonderful valued customer. Carry on, safe in the knowledge that despite the astonishing hype and waste of paper caused by this new ‘net piracy deal’, you can now be more certain than ever that nobody is going to stop you from downloading whatever the hell you want, however and whenever the hell you want.

Yours Sincerely,

A Very Large Internet Service Provider”

People will continue to download, often illegally. The music business will continue to whinge and gripe, while holding on to a completely outmoded business model and losing out massively as a result. And an intelligent debate about the effects of the internet on content, copyright and intellectual property will remain as elusive and far away as ever.

What a triumph.


Couldn't agree more. Does the BPI/Govt really believe that the internet service providers will turn away thousands of loyal, paying customers? No way.

There's talk of offenders having their broadband speeds downgraded, but presumably there's nothing to stop them switching to another ISP when their contract expires.

The words horse, stable door, bolted spring to mind.

I have a feeling this is something you may feel a smidge passionate about, Mr Dawes!

But you're right - it's pitiful. Yes, a better model is needed - one that benefits artists AND consumers, but not this fudge.

Even sadder to hear Feargal Sharkey - now chief executive of British Music Rights - snuggling up to the Government in all the interviews yesterday.

From Teenage Kicks to this. John Peel, lord love him, must be spinning...

Spot on, especially about Feargal Sharkey.  Cringe!

Where iTunes embraced incentivised downloading with cheap(ish) legal downloading, I feel that there are no more 'carrots' to offer customers.  Using a 'naughty letter' as a 'stick' is a red herring.

How about international legislation for a mandatory monthly licence fee on all international ISPs, which is passed as a small licence fee to the customer?  

The licence fees would pay for a huge free international download media vault to all licenced ISP users.  The revenue is returned, pro-rata, to the manufacturers, based on usage.

It would be legal and the music industry would certainly get more money than they do now, and will do in the foreseeable future!

Just a thought...

In a way, I couldn't agree more. But the problem lies in those two little words 'international legislation'. If the nations of the earth can't get together to save the planet (Kyoto), I doubt we'll be bothered, frankly, to get together to save the music business. Or am I being cynical?

also if i encrypt the data i am file sharing, how would my isp know what i was downloading?

Well written Dominic!

In response to 1R....if I have to pay for it I'm afraid I'll have to start downloading! It's just irresponsible not to in such a situation.

Personally I see a great future for musicians that are willing to embrace the internet. How much of the profit per cd do you think goes to the artist who's material is on there? Not much I assure you. The music industry is just the middle man who has become virtually obsolete through the computer & internet.

The music industry may die. So be it. Music will survive.

Why doesn't the music industry become sensible about this? IT companies for years have done the sensible thing, buy a download for one price or a physical disc for another more expensive price.Linn sells studio quality downloads, why not try that?

Use downloads to sell the idea of going to concerts, buying t-shirts and other tangible experiences that can't be downloaded. burying their heads in the sand and moaning to Gordon Brown isn't going to help.

I like the idea of a small monthly fee - but on a VAT-style model, no fixed fee.  Like 2.5% or 5% of the monthly broadband fee.

This should go to the artist / performer etc, not the record company.  The record company are making enough cash from the CD sales (which have been proven to have increased since Napster, once other factors were removed).

They could also do with revising copyright in general: with a subs fee there'll be much more money around for the artists, meaning there's far less reason to go giving them 90 years of profits for such a small amount of work.  Something like 20 years would be fair, it gives ample incentive for them to contribute more culture...

"Gordon Brown isn't going to help." Now there's a contender for sentence of the week.

Seriously though, the music biz is going to have to accept the winds of change,rather than trying to cajole a daft government into creating muddle headed and doomed to failure legislation.  And the quicker the industry does adapt, the better it will be for them.  

"...but it's somehow appropriate that the government was the only organisation yesterday hailing the new deal as a success and actually seeming like they meant it. Idiots."

Welcome to politics Dominic!

BTW has any of the other political parties commented on this proposal or suggested other options?


as a champion of consumer choice/rights, could the magazine not write to the various parties involved, and put the above points to them (maybe a shade politer??)

you could make it clear that you intend to print their replies in the magazine....

radicalbyte - I'm intrigued to know how 2.5% to 5% of your monthly broadband fee should go to the artist / performer? Does that mean you could only download the tunes of one arEDITEDt / performer per month?

I only remember fergal sharkey very vaguely as somebody "who had a one hit wonder" in the 80's or 90's. So he shouldn't really be worrying about his royalties. I would'nt even download him for free.


Grateful Dave

I'm with Grateful Dave on the Feargal Sharkey issue..

But nobody has mentioned the legality or otherwise of downloading material that the record companies have deleted from their catalogues.

As a somewhat sad (according to my children) 1960's music fan I simply can't buy a lot of the stuff I would like to get. Given that the record companies have made a conscious decision to make the product unavailable are they surprised that people will buy and sell second hand records, cd's and download tracks from the internet?

A lot of the artists/performers are dead by now, and quite honestly I'm not too bothered that neither the record company nor the estate of the late and very much lamented Vivian Stanshall will not collect from me a few coppers for a copy of 'Mr. Slater's Parrot'.  My conscience is clear in that I destroyed the orginal version I had on vinyl (left the bloody record too close to the central heating radiator after consuming half a bottle of Mr. Jameson's finest...)and never once asked the record company for a refund on the royalties.

So there.

Ha, Well said. The most recent studies into public behaviour with music are coming to the very conclusion the music industry doesn't want to hear – that illegal downloading will never be defeated. What they need to do is wake up and realise that this doesn't mean the end of the world for them – IF they can keep up and devise business models fit for the 21st century.

I would like to add to Barryboy's comments - what about all the stuff that's not available legally?  Are the record companies saying "Tough, go without".

A couple of years ago I gave my son a list of about 30 songs to look for.  Every one of these songs had at some time reached the charts, a couple had got to no. 1, the majority had made top twenty and only three were less well known but had still made top 50.  On I-Tunes he could only find 11 of them.  On a certain other site he found 26!  Strangely one of the no. 1 hits was not available on I-Tunes.

And I don't think it's just us old gits that suffer, stuff seems to get deleted about five minutes after release these days if it hasn't shot up the charts like a speeding bullet!