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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 17 September 2009

File sharing - not the end of the world.

Most of what I read in the media, particularly the British media, tends to upset me and further erode my faith in the human race. Now and again I see something that goes against the trend.
Internet service providers have the duty to stop illegal file-sharing costing jobs
Yells The Telegraph, or rather someone called Christine Payne. Who she? The Chairman of the Creative Coalition Campaign and General Secretary of Equity according to The Tele, who have been kind enough to print her ramblings.
As trade union delegates gather in Liverpool this week, among the issues being debated is the trade union response to illegal P2P filesharing of film, music and other creative content. Too often, this activity is seen as a “victimless crime”, with major media companies able to afford to pick up the tab. The reality is very different: without the revenue from the distribution of creative content, there will be fewer films, songs and television programmes able to be commissioned. Job losses will be felt right across the chain, from production to distribution, from technicians to manufacturers and from logistics companies to staff in high street shops.
Our members are genuinely concerned about the impact illegal filesharing is having on the future of the entertainment industry. They worry that, in a rapidly changing world, there are diminishing incentives to produce quality works, and that the incentives will disappear altogether if those who do put their time, energy, talents and capital into creating quality works find that they are unable to gain any financial benefit because the works are pirated and distributed without any return for the creator.
Unlike some libertarians I don't go so far as to want to see the end of copyright and patents and Intellectual Property in general, though I do feel that there's probably scope for reform of pretty much all areas of IP, but Christine Payne does seem to be taking the piss. I tend to agree with those older and wiser artists who see the internet and file sharing not so much as a threat but as a means to make their work more accessible than the younger ones who are demanding protectionist policies. Lily Allen of all people should understand this rather than talk about it making it harder for new acts to get known - I was under the impression that despite having a famous dad it was getting known via the fucking internet that helped launch Lily Allen's career. Free music helped her talent to become known and no doubt has also helped her bank balance to become very healthy indeed, so why does she now think it's a bad thing? Could she just possibly be talking out of her arse?

Anyway, back to Christine Payne. What it is about this that goes against the trend of my beating my fists against the wall in rage at the stupidity of the world is not Ms Payne or her thoughts but the comments that the article drew on the web, not one of which supported her. More than one pointed out that we've heard all this before when cassette taping at home was going to destroy the industry. The reality of course was rather different: Person A buys an album on tape or LP (remember those?) and Person B tapes a copy illegally. If Person B doesn't like it the tape will be over recorded with something else anyway, but if it's something they really enjoy they may well go and buy an original and/or other records by that artist. It's like giving away samples except that people who've already paid for the product are doing some of the legwork. Did everyone go on to pay for other recordings? No, of course not. There were bound to be a certain proportion of tightarses who always ponced music of others and had virtually no paid for, original, 'legit' music in their collections. But the fact that the industry didn't collapse suggests they were a minority. Home taping certainly failed to kill it and may have done more good than harm on balance. Can Ms Payne see that?
Internet service providers hold the key to creating the step change necessary to tackle illegal filesharing. It is the ISPs who have the direct relationship with customers, and all the evidence suggests that where a system is put in place for dealing with offenders, rates of piracy will fall dramatically.

...the rate at which jobs are being undermined by this issue is too urgent for ISPs not to play their role. Just as they need new television, film and music to fuel engagement with the internet, so they should live up to their responsibility to those who work in the production of the content.
It is for that very reason that my trade union and others have joined forces with the creative industries, under the banner of the Creative Coalition Campaign, to speak with one voice in support of obliging ISPs to take technical measures against persistent illegal peer-to-peer filesharers. This could include a reduction in bandwidth or even temporary suspension – albeit a very last resort.
Sorry? Why should ISPs take the responsibility? As one of the commenters said, it's like asking BT as the owner of the wires and operator of the phone service to take responsibility for crimes being plotted over the phone, though I'd say more like asking the owners of the M6 toll road to do all the enforcement and prosecuting for motoring offences. Except it's worse, because what's really being asked for is equivalent to the government making the M6 toll owners take responsibility, presumably under threat of punishment themselves if they fail to meet expectations.

Nor does Ms Payne mention how she expects it all to be done anyway. Technology moves on and file sharing will be no exception. I'm no expert but I understand that in the few years that file sharing has been around there have already been a few moves made in that particular game. There is encryption available to prevent an ISP recognising that file sharing is going on. There's something called TOR which, I'm told, makes the little bits of files being shared about hard or completely impractical to trace (don't ask me, I'm just repeating what I've been told by someone who understands it much better than I do). Much about it I don't really get but what I do know is that it won't end there. Move and counter move, move and counter move. Surely it's better to simply bite the bullet and embrace the technology, and find a way to make it work for artists rather than trying to fight it by bullying the ISPs and making it their problem. Ms Payne, its not their problem, and really it's not yours either. It's the problem of each individual artist, and it's simply up to them to make it worth the while to pay for more than is downloaded instead of expecting ISPs to be their web police. And that's before we even get on to the subject of legitimate applications for file sharing technology and how the fuck the ISPs are supposed to tell the difference between that and Lily Allen's latest album being shared.

Normally I'd probably finish a blog post with some swearing but perhaps because I've had my optimism button pushed for a change I don't feel like it. Instead I'll just refer anyone who's interested in copyright to a short story called Melancholy Elephants. I found it mentioned some time ago on another blog somewhere, and if I had the first clue whose I'd credit them for it, but as it is I just followed the link, enjoyed the read and remembered the title. It's particularly apposite since it's free to read for anyone with internet access. Lily Allen and Christine Payne could probably do with a look at it.

1 comment:

JuliaM said...

"More than one pointed out that we've heard all this before when cassette taping at home was going to destroy the industry. "

Seems to have weathered that just fine. So, why should anyone care now these people are crying 'Wolf!' again?

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