Pop piracy should be decriminalised and the music industry should realise that efforts to stop illegal downloading are doomed, a conference has been told.
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent
Instead the music industry should embrace file-sharers, said technology journalist and author Andrew Orlowski in a keynote speech at the Interactive In The City conference being held in Manchester.
iTunes and other services may have a limited life
Mr Orlowski said the record labels should look to novel ways to generate cash to support new artists.
One way could be the addition of a small surcharge to net subscription fees which could be shared among artists whose music is being downloaded.
Hi-tech pop swap
The body that represents the recording industry worldwide, the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) told BBC News Online the record industry was pro-technology and against stealing music.
"We think it is clear that the music industry's strategies on the internet are working, and there is a great deal more good news about the legitimate online music business than there was even a year ago," a spokesperson said.
But, she added: "We believe that what he is proposing is a prescription for less music not more."
Mr Orlowski believes that the relentless pace of technological change is going to make it increasingly difficult to police pop swapping and tackle net piracy.
"Both the technology people and the music people are sharing the collective hallucination that technology will save them but it won't," he told BBC News Online.
Although he said that the current form of peer-to-peer networks let the music industry track down the most prolific file swappers, the next generation of technologies will render such efforts futile.
New gadgets and networking technologies will make it much easier to swap pop, but far harder to stop it.
Mr Orlowski said future short-range network systems, called personal area networks, will let people swap pop as they walk down the street.
Gadgets are likely to hold a list of their owners' preferences and, when they come in range of another device bearing tracks that fit this profile, will extract a copy.
"It's peer-to-peer in your pocket," he said.
Such ubiquitous technology that makes it so easy to swap and share music is likely to outwit technological attempts, using so-called Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, to regulate it, said Mr Orlowski.
"I would never say never," he said, "but DRM requires a huge social change to make it work."
Beyonce is performing at the music conference
The ease with which music can be swapped in the future might also mean that existing legitimate music download services such as iTunes, Napster and others have a limited life, said Mr Orlowski.
The music industry needed to realise that a generation was growing up that was happy to get its pop for free.
Instead of using the law to stop this piracy, said Mr Orlowski, record labels needed to change their tactics.
"Copyright law is fine. We just need to enforce it in a more enlightened way."
The inclusion of a small surcharge on monthly internet subscription fees that was given to record labels to pay artists could solve the problem, he said.
"I do not have kids and I do not have a car but I do not have any objection to paying for roads and schools because it is better that they are there rather than not."
He added that the idea of a surcharge was winning the broad backing of many in the music industry including legendary figure Tony Wilson formerly of Factory Records.