According to a BBC news report, it seems that a deal to tackle digital piracy is about to be realised between major UK ISPs and key content and entertainment industry organisations. Given that it took several years of wrangling to get to this point, the obvious question is whether this particular deal will work to the satisfaction of all concerned?
The report describes how the UK ISPs (i.e. BT, Sky, TalkTalk and VirginMedia) will be required to send ‘educational’ letters, or alerts, to users they believe are downloading illegal content. Among other things, the deal is predicated on the belief that increased awareness of legal alternatives will encourage such users away from illegal content acquisition, casual infringement and piracy. This voluntary alert system will be funded mainly by the content industry who in return will get monthly stats on alerts dished out by the ISPs. Overall, this deal is far removed from the more punitive “3 strikes” system originally mooted in the early days of the Digital Economy Act.
As with most cases there are 2 or more sides to the story, and below are some considerations to be taken into account before drawing your own conclusions, including:
1. Critics of this deal, i.e. presumably the content providers, will consider this too soft an approach to be effective in curbing the very real and adverse economic impact of piracy.
2. Supporters, including ISPs, will likely see this as fair compromise for securing their cooperation in tackling piracy, and a win-win for them and their customers.
3. Another perspective comprises the view of regulators and government intermediaries (aka brokers of this deal), who likely consider it a practical compromise which can always be tweaked depending on its efficacy or lack thereof.
4. There are probably many other viewpoints to be considered, but, in my opinion, the most important perspective belongs to the end-users who ultimately stand to benefit or suffer from the success or failure of this initiative, especially since:
- there is evidence that education trumps punishment when it comes to casual content piracy – e.g. the HADOPI experience in France which has effectively evolved into an educational campaign against copyright infringement.
- content consumers already have far too much choice over the source and format of content anyway, so punitive measures may not necessarily solve the piracy problem, if they can get content via other illegal means.
- any perceived failure of this deal, and its ‘educational’ approach, could lend support for more draconian and punitive measures, therefore it is in the interest of consumers to see it succeed.
5. Industrial scale piracy, on the other hand must be tackled head-on, with the full weight of the law, in order to close down and discourage the real criminal enterprises that probably do far more damage to the content industry.
In any case, regardless of how you view this and other similar developments, it is always worth bearing in mind that we are only in a period of transition to a comprehensive digital existence, therefore all current challenges and opportunities are certain to change, as new technology and usage paradigms continue to drive and reveal ever more intriguing changes in consumer behaviours. This battle is far from over.
In keeping with the festive season, this may be the perfect present for content industry stakeholders, and perhaps a sign that even this period of economic woes may also hold the seeds of future prosperity for the content industry. But only if we get it right this time.
The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), led by Minister David Lammy, have launched this consultation to help ensure that the UK copyright system is up to the job of supporting creativity, attracting investment and retaining the confidence of users and businesses in the challenging environments of today and tomorrow (read more at DRMWatch). Perhaps equally significant, is the stated aim of this consultation to address the increasingly global nature of copyright going forward, and this, to my mind, presents a prime opportunity for leadership in creating a more relevant Intellectual Property system for a digitally connected world. The initial consultation is planned to run until February 2009, and to conclude sometime in the summer; so definitely something to watch out for, and perhaps get involved of you can.
PS. The UK is not alone in doing this exercise, because, according to a MediaFuturist blog post, other developed countries, like Japan, are also in the throes of similar debates about copyright and their role in a super-connected world. It will be most interesting to see what they all come up with.
Other positive developments, in other areas, include the recent news about a rethink by the Recording Industry of Association of America (RIAA) on their policy of suing individual file sharers. Instead, they have decided to work with ISPs to monitor and deal with illegal file sharers using an approach similar to the 3 strikes model (more coverage here). Who says there is no good news anymore?
So here is wishing you all a peaceful holiday / festive season, and a reasonably prosperous New Year (all things considered). Adios for now!
Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.
According to a BBC News article, a US court has found against a woman in the first case of an individual contesting the claim of illegal file sharing by the RIAA. It would seem that the birds are finally coming home to roost for the recording industry’s legal truncheon against this activity, but the question remains as to who really wins/loses out in the deal?
The initial impression is that this outcome would deter others from contesting similar claims in future, instead seeking to settle out-of-court by paying the few thousand dollars demanded by RIAA. It certainly seems better than the threat of having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars should they lose their legal appeal as in the case of the above defendant (She has been ordered to pay over two hundred thousand dollars in damages).
However some analysts are of the opinion that this could very well be an own goal by the recording industry for several reasons:
- Major labels may now wish to rely more on these lawsuits to protect their profits instead of fully focusing on creating more innovative and profitable business models for their music content.
- Customers are being further alienated by their possible exposure to this type of legal threat, especially where they cannot prove they did not download the content. It was the neighbour’s cat. Honest.
- Finally the lawsuits do not seem to have had any significant impact on the rapid decline of the recording industry’s CD centric business models, nor has it provably reduced the sharing of files by consumers.
In the words of Paul Resnikoff, Editor of DigitalMusicNews, ‘time is running out’ for the major labels, therefore they should focus their dwindling resources on more constructive initiatives than individual infringement lawsuits, if they are to survive this seemingly terminal market disruption.