Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Record companies on the dole

The UK Government has just proposed [BBC] creating a special benefit for the increasingly desperate recording and film industries - and it's going to be funded by increasing what you pay for the Internet!

Here's how it works. All UK Internet Service Providers will have to police their networks (read, snoop on your internet traffic) for signs that someone, somewhere may be downloading music. If they find music files, they'll have to check who "owns" them. That's who owns the publishing rights, not who wrote it, or even who bought it. And if they think you're naughtily downloading some music that someone else owns (even if you've bought it yourself, and just want to listen to it on the move), they have to warn you, and then cut off your internet access.

This won't come free - so the cost will be passed on to you, the customer.

If it's not you copying the files -- say it's your kids, your neighbours accidentally or otherwise using your wireless network, or someone visiting your home -- then you may still be disconnected. And if your job depends on internet access, then you're stuffed!

Even if we're just talking about access to information, the consequences are disproportionate to the so-called crime. It's like banning someone from listening to the radio because they taped a song that was playing!

On the other hand, if there is someone you don't like, you could download a couple of Britney Spears' latest masterpieces through their wireless connection, and get them cut off. Or Cliff "50 year's royalties are not enough" Richards' music, and add public humiliation to the mix.

A few points leap to mind:

  • The threat is hugely exaggerated - if these music executives think that everyone who copies a tune to see what it sounds like was going to buy it anyway, they are sadly deluded.

  • If they think that exposing more people to their music is always bad for sales, they are misled. Before MP3s, student copying of cassettes (reduced quality versions of the originals, just like MP3s) was rampant, and music somehow refused to die, the sky did not fall down, and records were still sold.

  • If they pretend that the most important threat is people downloading the odd tune informally, rather than industrial-scale piracy, they are lying.

  • If they think that you and I should pay to keep their "intellectual property" safe, they are being just a little greedy and selfish. Shocking thought, I know!

  • In fact, they probably think it's bad enough that they have to pay to get these new unfair laws passed, and are trying to work out how to get you to cover their lobbying expenses!

  • If they are so worried about the interests of the poor starving artists, why are they still deducting huge amounts for breakages - of CDs, I mean to say (!!!!) before paying any of them their royalties?

  • And maybe it's not piracy that's the problem. Could sales possibly be falling because of poor quality music, reduced catalogues, or increased competition from other media or even the Internet itself?
This initiative should be resisted, firmly.

It is disproportionate.

It demands too much snooping.

The wrong people are paying for it.

And it's unnecessary.

Just say no - and mention it to your MP, especially if you're in the part of the country where New Labour are brave enough to face the voters.