Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

What will stop you from pirating?

Digital Planet
Alka Marwaha
BBC World Service

Feargal Sharkey (David Wimsett, Photoshot)
Feargal Sharkey feels that education could help stop illegal file-sharing
The problem of illegal file-sharing has become a global one but the way governments go about tackling it changes from country to country.

In the UK, internet service providers (ISPs) have recently voluntarily agreed to engage and educate their customers about file-sharing.

Virgin Media is one of the most recent ISPs to write to customers whose net connection may have been used to download unlicensed content.

However, coming up with a logical and viable solution is proving difficult because of the fast pace of technological change.

"Who would have ever predicted five years ago that there would have been such a thing as iTunes, which now has an 80% global share of all downloads," said Feargal Sharkey, chief executive of UK Music, which is an umbrella organisation representing the collective interests of the UK's commercial music industry.

"The music industry is often having to wait and see what works," he told the BBC World Service's technology programme, Digital Planet.

"For several years now, the music industry has been the 'canary down the coalmine'," said Mr Sharkey.

"It's not just the music industry now. Over the last six months, you now have the film industry, the games industry and even ironically national newspapers that are now beginning to face exactly the same kind of issues that the music industry has been trying to grapple with," he added.

Original pirates

A web page from displayed on a computer screen
Websites like YouTube warn users against infringing copyright
Music piracy is not a new problem - people have been copying music since the day cassette tapes were introduced.

"Someone said to me the other day, 'when I was young I'd pop the odd cassette over the garden fence to my next door neighbour'.

"The reality is because of the modern world we live in, the next door neighbour's garden is now global in size and populated by billions of people.

"It's an astonishingly easy thing to replicate a digital file, and the one millionth copy that you make of it sounds just as good as the first one," he said.

The music industry is facing a huge challenge making sure the artists get paid for the work that they produce.

More than six-and-a-half million people in the UK have admitted illegally accessing and distributing music.

"We did research, speaking to 14- to 24-year-olds and it does get a bit disheartening when you realise that 63% of them were telling us that they were downloading music from the internet and not paying for it," said Mr Sharkey.

"The bit that we are trying to get people to understand is this does have an impact and it is becoming unsustainable."

Global solutions

In New Zealand new laws set to come into force next year will mean that ISPs are responsible for monitoring people's online activities and cutting them off if there are allegations of illegal file-sharing.

Earlier this month in France, the government voted overwhelmingly in favour of a "three strikes and you're out" policy, where suspected file-sharers would get two written warnings before their internet service is suspended.

Our song writers and musicians have to be treated with enough respect
Feargal Sharkey

The British Phonographic Industry, which is a record industry lobby group has tried to persuade ISPs in the UK to do the same.

However, nothing has happened so far as they could not agree on who would pay for the costs of monitoring or sending letters and who would be liable for the inevitable lawsuits when innocent users were disconnected.

"There was some research done earlier this year that seemed to indicate that up to 80% of people would actually stop doing it with nothing more than somebody sending them a letter indicating they knew what they were doing," said Mr Sharkey.

"That was backed by the research that we did, where young people were telling us that the reason they kept doing it was because they didn't think anybody would ever notice.

"And again, it came up with a similar answer that if someone did come along and say we know what you are up to, can you please stop - that they would stop," he said.

Feargal Sharkey feels that educating people about music rights is essential.

"The British government themselves actually changed what schools have to teach back in September this year - music lessons now look at the role of the musician, the industry and copyright.

"To help that, we launched a website aimed at teachers called Soundrights, which can be displayed on white boards in classrooms, so that they along with young people can learn more about copyright and the music business," he said.

As a former musician in popular 80s band The Undertones, he does realise the implications illegal file-sharing has on those who create the music.

"At some point, our song writers and musicians have to be treated with enough respect that they can at least carry on with some basic quality of life that will allow them to carry on creating and performing year after year."

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