Last July I wrote this blog, in which I ranted and raved about some rather limp attempts by the government to look like they were doing something about illegal downloading without actually doing anything at all.
The suggestion, back then, was that the way to deal with file sharing was for ISPs (Internet Service providers) to go around policing, threatening and generally hounding their own customers. As I remarked in my blog, this looked more like posturing than policy, and the whole deal had the whiff of a government meekly suggesting something it had no intention of pursuing, simply in order to get someone powerful off its back.
Well now we have the confirmation that, like all truly bad ideas, the plan was greeted with a tsunami of indifference, not least from the people who suggested it. The Government, after what is known in Whitehall circles as 'a discreet interval', has finally fessed up to the fact that it has no intention of turning that bogus idea into anything resembling a law.
As for the ISPs themselves, Broadband providers the length and breadth of Britain looked up briefly, quietly muttered 'Bovvered?', and went back to conjuring premium package offers based on advertised broadband speeds so wildly optimistic you will only achieve them if you happen to live in one particular house in Weybridge.
I digress. The bringer of these good if slightly embarrassed tidings was none other than intellectual property minister, MP for Tottenham and all-round good egg David Lammy. Lammy was a junior minister of minor import until he self-consciously revealed he's a good friend of Barak Obama, at which point he became in the minds of the British political media a kind of Spurs-supporting John The Baptist.
"We can't have a system where we're talking about arresting teenagers in their bedrooms," Lammy said. While I'm sure we could find plenty of peope who'd take issue with that statement on all sorts of levels, it should be applauded not just for its liberal spirit, but also for its refreshing honesty.
Here's the bottom line: any suggested 'solution' to file sharing which criminalises large swaths of the otherwise law-abiding population is a very, very stupid idea. Ok? Ok.
The sooner we realise – along with likeable Lammy – that those kind of draconian responses are simply not going to happen, the sooner everyone can arrive at a resolution that keeps consumers, producers, artists and, yes, music companies relatively happy.
No, they won't be 'happy' like they used to be. But seeing as music biz 'happiness' used to involve giving £2,000,000 advances to bands as awful as Gay Dad and offering up yearly accounts involving £200,000 annual spends on 'flowers' (euphemism of the century), that's not neccessarily such a bad thing.
A 'media tax' on broadband subscriptions? Maybe that is the way to go. Downloading is here to stay, and the production costs of movies and music have to paid for somehow. The only worrying thing about the recent news was the sight of Feargal Sharkey – ex-Undertones frontman and now the public face of industry group UK Music – naively saying he thinks that 80 per cent of file sharers would be prepared to pay for a legitimate file-sharing service.
Er, has he seen iTunes? Ok, an impressive ten per cent of Europeans use it, but then 20 per cent use file-sharing sites where they can get their media for free. And legal download services account for just eight per cent of overall music revenues – which are falling overall.
Call me cynical, but if all those who bought the 7in single of Teenage Kicks in 1978 could have sat at home and got it for free, what do you think they would have done...?
Yes, there needs to be a solution. But it needs to be something a little more subtle than 'send da boys round.' Here's hoping Lammy can lead the way towards a more thoughtful debate on the subject. Maybe he can get Obama to parachute in with some words of wisdom.....