Page last updated at 07:05 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 08:05 UK

Music stars at war over file-sharing

Lily Allen, Tinchy Stryder and James Blunt
Lily Allen, Tinchy Stryder and James Blunt have joined forces against piracy

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Pop stars including Lily Allen, Gary Barlow and James Blunt have declared war on illegal file-sharing - and on another group of big-name musicians in the process.

Their number one enemies are the people who download music without paying for it.

Forty billion music files were downloaded without payment in 2008, global music industry body the IFPI said, meaning 95% of all digital music was downloaded illegally.

Worldwide album sales have halved in the 10 years since the original mass file-sharing software, Napster, appeared.

The peer-to-peer debate has been rumbling on for a tedious, divisive and largely fruitless decade, with illegal traffic continuing to grow as lawsuits, education campaigns and anti-piracy technologies have come and gone.

For new talent, file-sharing is a disaster as it's making it harder and harder for new acts to emerge
Lily Allen

Lily is now leading the charge, and has set up a blog to publish statements of support from other singers.

In her rousing messages, she says the future of music is at stake and, to paraphrase, they can be its saviours.

Among her followers is Captain Blunt, who called her "our leader" and wrote a letter of support to The Times.

It is the most high-profile assault by artists against file-sharers since Metallica dumped the names of 335,435 downloaders in the Napster foyer nine years ago.

Their concerted campaign comes as a crucial deadline looms for gathering views on government plans to crack down on file-sharers.

Ministers will soon decide whether to suspend the internet accounts of serial file-sharers.

But Team Lily are also waging a second battle against a rival collection of musicians, which includes members of Radiohead, Pink Floyd and Blur.

Featured Artists' Coalition committee. Left-right: Ed O'Brien, Dave Rowntree, Kate Nash, Billy Bragg
The Featured Artists' Coalition has "put out feelers" to Lily Allen

Those musicians are part of the Featured Artists' Coalition (FAC), a pressure group set up a year ago to speak up for artists' rights.

They say there is no point fighting file-sharing because it would be practically impossible to find a failsafe way to track copyrighted material and penalise the perpetrators.

Doing so would also be a major invasion of privacy and turn thousands of fans against the artists and the industry, they argue.

Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason and Blur drummer Dave Rowntree, who spoke up for the FAC, have been Lily's targets.

"These guys from huge bands said file-sharing music is fine," she wrote last week. "It probably is fine for them. They do sell-out arena tours and have the biggest Ferrari collections in the world.

"For new talent though, file-sharing is a disaster as it's making it harder and harder for new acts to emerge."

One of Lily's followers, hip-hop star Tinchy Stryder, who has had two UK number one singles in the last five months, went further on his blog.

When will these artists accept file-sharing and free music downloading is a reality and isn't going away?
liger05, London, UK

"Certain older, established and very very wealthy musicians/artists who have made MILLIONS from CD sales before the days of piracy and the internet and who now regularly sell out arena tours (which they can do only because of how popular they became in the 'good old days') have claimed that file sharing (piracy) is NOT a problem to the music business (well not to them anyway!)

"These guys have probably never even been on a computer/iPod/mobile phone LET ALONE the internet LOL, so I don't know how they're so sure!!"

FAC board member Billy Bragg said Lily Allen and her disciples had "slightly got the wrong end of the stick".

"I don't think the FAC has any disagreement with anything she said apart from her accusation that we're in favour of file-sharing," he said.

"We're not in favour of file-sharing, we're opposed to file-sharing. We believe that whenever artists' music is shared and used by people, then artists should get paid for that."

Bragg said the FAC was putting out feelers to talk to Lily.

The current squabble could end up damaging the artists' cause as ministers come to weigh up the different views.

Muse singer Matt Bellamy
We should set up a meeting with Lord Mandelson... I'm sure he would meet us for breakfast!
Matt Bellamy

As Keane keyboardist and songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley wrote to Lily: "The most vital step at this moment is to ensure that 'the artists', whether FAC-related or not, present a united front and a simple message.

"Otherwise the old 'divide and conquer' routine will be meted out to us and the artist community will be fobbed off by the internet service providers, labels and government."

Muse singer Matt Bellamy is one of the few to have offered a solution.

There should be a radical overhaul of the way people receive and pay for music, he says.

Under his plan, internet service providers would pay artists and other rights holders, while fans would have access to any music file on the web as part of their broadband subscriptions.

"We should set up a meeting with [business secretary] Lord Mandelson as he is on this issue at the moment, I'm sure he would meet us for breakfast!" he wrote to Lily.

The FAC says it wants artists to be given the right to sell music directly from their website, and get most of the proceeds, because fans would be more willing to give money straight to their favourite artists.

That path was forged by Radiohead when they made their last album In Rainbows available from their website in 2007.

But as Rice-Oxley notes, the future for making money online is "sketchy" at present.

That seems to be one thing that everyone can agree on.

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