Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 13:00 UK

Musicians hit out at piracy plans

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Eye and circuit board
Media regulator Ofcom could be given powers to punish file-sharers

An alliance of music stars, songwriters and record producers has spoken out against UK government proposals to kick file-sharers off the internet.

Persistent file-sharers could have their internet accounts suspended in an attempt to crack down on piracy.

But Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien, a member of the Featured Artists' Coalition (FAC), said: "It's going to start a war which they'll never win."

The FAC said "heavy-handed" tactics may turn fans away from music for good.

The FAC, a pressure group formed to represent performers, has joined forces with the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors and the Music Producers Guild.

In a joint statement, the three bodies of music-makers said they "vehemently oppose" the plans to punish file-sharers.

That is in contrast to major record labels and many other commercial arms of the music industry, who have welcomed the suggestions.

We don't want to make enemies of our fans
Dave Rowntree (right)

Blur drummer Dave Rowntree said the FAC was against file-sharing, but that previous attempts at legal action had turned fans against the music industry and the artists themselves.

"We don't want to make enemies of our fans," he told BBC News. "The sensible thing to do is to try to see how we can monetise all this file-sharing activity, which is evidence of a lot of interest in music."

It would be very difficult to find out who was swapping files and whether those files contained copyrighted recordings, he warned.

Singer and fellow FAC board member Billy Bragg described the measures as a "very heavy sledgehammer".

"We're concerned that, in an age where there is much greater competition for attention, these proposals are in danger of driving young people away from the idea of listening to music," he said.

"As musicians, we're worried about that."

Many young fans had discovered his music through file-sharing, Bragg said, and paid for his music in other ways, such as buying gig tickets.

"We should be encouraging people to become music fans, and whether we like it or not, illicit downloading does encourage people to become music fans."

There are more positive ways of dealing with this without totally upsetting your consumers
Patrick Rackow
British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors

Speaking of the proposal to cut off pirates, Ed O'Brien predicted: "It won't work. It's as simple as that.

"I was talking to a serial file-sharer the other day, who is a friend. He downloads films and he hasn't paid for music for six years.

"I asked his opinion of it and he laughed. He said, 'even if they cut me off I'll still be able to do it'. It's something you do not want to take on, so move on."

Phonographic Performance Limited, which licenses recorded music and music videos for public performance and broadcast said the majority of its 40,000 members were "not household names" and "they deserve to be protected from theft".

PPL chairman Fran Nevrkla added: "It is time we had an online world more akin to the High Street than the Wild West."

His sentiment was echoed by the Creative Coalition Campaign - a partnership between trade unions representing people working in the creative industries.

"Our creative sector produces world-class content, bringing joy to countless people across the UK and the world, but this can't be sustained if illegal file-sharing persists," said a statement from the coalition.

"There has never been a more critical time to take bold action against those who are threatening the livelihoods of everyone working in the entertainment sector."

Geoff Taylor, of the British Phonographic Industry, which represents record labels, says the government is right to consider "temporary suspension as a last resort, where accounts are repeatedly used illegally despite warnings".

"Most people across the music sector recognise the serious damage that illegal file-sharing is doing to investment in new music," he added.

But Patrick Rackow, chief executive of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, said sanctions would upset fans, rather than driving them towards legal services.

"The industry has to look forwards, not backwards," he said. "There is a huge problem here and we've got to find a solution to it. I don't know what this solution is, I don't think anyone does.

"There are more positive ways of dealing with this without totally upsetting your consumers."

He suggested that in the future, legal music download services could be based on radio. In that scenario, fans would not pay for every song but may pay a subscription or hear adverts, as with existing services such as Spotify or We7.

'Widespread concerns'

In its Digital Britain report, originally published in June, the government set a target to reduce file-sharing by 70% in the first year.

That report gave media regulator Ofcom until 2012 to consider whether "technical measures" - such as reducing broadband speeds or blocking access to download sites - were necessary.

However, according to a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) released last month, that time-frame is now considered "too long to wait".

Stephen Timms, minister for Digital Britain, said in August: "We've been listening carefully to responses to the consultation this far, and it's become clear there are widespread concerns that the plans as they stand could delay action, impacting unfairly upon rights holders."

Speaking in response to the FAC's concerns, Mr Timm subsequently added that "any action would follow a clear series of warnings and there would be a fair and effective appeals process".

UK Music, an umbrella body representing the British music industry, said it was "pleased that government is proposing accelerated and proportionate action to meet their stated ambition of reducing illegal file-sharing".

"Throughout this debate, UK Music has voiced concerns that the original time-frame of proposed legislation, and particularly the trigger mechanisms that would grant Ofcom reserve powers to implement technical measures, would have failed to meet these ambitions," a statement said.

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