UK government warns ISPs over music piracy

By February 22, 2008 4 Comments

The UK government announced yesterday that ISPs would be hit with legal sanctions from April 2009 unless they take concrete action to curb illegal downloads of music and films.

I think the government needs to be really careful here.

For sure I sympathise with the music industry – their copyright is being infringed left right and centre, to their massive cost.  But I think the answer lies in changing the way music is delivered, rather than legislation.  Hence my belief in  free ad supported music.

Remember that there has always been piracy, but because it was a hassle copying music to cassettes relative to the price of buying CDs not much of it went on and the music industry wasn’t that bothered.  With the advent of the internet and Napster that equation changed.  Copying music became much much much easier, but music has remained roughly the same price.  Hence piracy has exploded.

It is possible that with free ad supported models the music industry makes less per track than it used to in the past.  To that I would say a) something is better than nothing, and b) remember that the price of CDs was artificially inflated.

The structure of retail distribution (physical CDs and stores) previously allowed the industry to make super-profits, and going forward the structure (digital files and downloads/streams) might not.  That is unfortunate, but it may simply be a fact of life, of progress even.

So by focusing on ISPs I think the government is looking in the wrong place, and I have sympathy with the argument that asking ISPs to stop illegal downloads is akin to asking the Royal Mail to check the contents of every letter it sends.  I fear that legislation might have unintended side effects which would stifle innovation elsewhere.

That said, I suspect there are small things that ISPs could do which would make it a bit more difficult to pirate music and hence help the record industry a little.  They could probably work out a system for identifying and blocking offending URLs for example.  The way that ebay blocks the sale of items like Nazi memorabilia strikes me as a precedent for this type of action.

Let me finish by saying thank you for your comments on my post earlier this week on ad supported music.  I intend to digest those over the weekend and come back with a response next week.