Page last updated at 10:07 GMT, Friday, 13 June 2008 11:07 UK

Time to take on the file sharers

Chris Martin

On 9 June, BBC commentator Bill Thompson wrote a critique of a joint venture between the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) and Virgin Media to write to customers whose net connection may have been used to download unlicensed content.

Here, BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor responds to his comments.

Bill Thompson's critique of the new education campaign we have launched with Virgin Media was a good illustration of why such a campaign is needed: in drawing misleading analogies between illegal file sharing and taping programmes off the TV he shows that even "experts" get it wrong sometimes.

It's good that he recognises that the future for consumers, internet service providers (ISPs), and the music community is in developing even more new licensed download services.

But it's naive at best to think licensed music services can prosper without action being taken against illegal downloading.

Indeed it's Mr Thompson, rather than music companies, who is stuck in the past.

Music companies are radically re-inventing their business models in response to changes in how music fans want to access music online.

Yet Mr Thompson's digital utopianism clings to an implausible and dated belief that the internet will be an endless free lunch.

Digital distribution

Let's look at the figures. More than six and a half million people in the UK illegally access and distribute music, and it is plain wrong to say that this is good for music.

Independent research has shown time after time that people who download illegally generally spend less on music than people that don't, which undermines investment in new music.

The record companies themselves have adjusted to these times of transition, and the BPI is fighting to promote and protect the value of copyright, to allow their new models space to breathe.

The good news is that many elements of our digital future are already here.

Geoff Taylor
Bill Thompson incorrectly challenges the quality of the information we provide
Geoff Taylor

As a self-confessed illegal downloader, Bill may not know there are already hundreds of licensed online and mobile services (carrying more than six million tracks) from which to choose where and how to access music legally.

iTunes (paid-for a la carte downloads), Napster and eMusic (monthly subscription), We7 (free to consumer, ad-supported), last.fm (interactive web radio), YouTube, Yahoo (streamed video on-demand) and Nokia's Comes With Music (music as part of a subscription) are just some of the many digital business models that record labels are supporting.

In short, ours is one of the most digitally-literate businesses in Britain, and innovation is translating into revenue.

So far this year, 13.4% of our sales revenues have come through digital platforms and in total, more than 200 million downloads have been sold in the UK.

We believe that ISPs, far from being a simple pipe, can become significant distributors of digital media, and share in the tremendous value that would be unleashed if more music were accessed legally online.

But despite the proliferation of licensed services, most music is still downloaded from unlicensed services - a problem that cannot be addressed through new models alone.

This is why ISP partnerships are the next logical step in our maturing digital music business.

Best practice

By sending hundreds of thousands of information messages to illegal file sharers, supporting initiatives such as Pro-Music, developing free useful tools for consumers such as Digital File Check, and partnering with charities such as Childnet, the music business has worked hard at consumer education.

ISPs can play a role in education too.

BitTorrent
Bill's column also examined sharing files of TV shows

During this campaign, we provide Virgin Media with publicly available information about their customers' illegal music sharing.

Virgin Media then contact the customer to give them the information they need to remedy the problem.

Mr Thompson incorrectly challenges the quality of the information we provide: in referring to US researchers who "fooled the US film industry" into sending legal notices to the wrong place, he overlooks the fact that the information supplied by the BPI is collected by robust techniques that have stood up to High Court scrutiny on numerous occasions, and that similar evidence has been used to bring more than 50,000 legal cases across Europe.

Not one of those cases has recorded a mistaken ID, or been successfully contested.

This is why the same US researchers cited the music business as an example of best practice for the quality of the evidence it provides.

Most British people don't want to break the law and agree that people should be paid for their work.

We think that that most account holders will welcome information that helps them to download legally and avoid the risk of legal action or the cancellation of their contract.

Let's be clear about this. We - the music business - do not want to see any customers have their broadband contract cancelled.

And if the e-mails we have received thus far are anything to go by, most people will respond positively to our approach.

Turning point

But we have to be realistic.

Plenty of people are aware that what they are doing is unlawful.

Some will note that their ISP is beginning to take the issue seriously and take the advice, but this won't work for everyone.

We want all ISPs to implement a simple, non-technological solution which involves no spying on their customers or invasions of privacy. We call it three steps.

We collect and pass on to the ISP publically available information about their customers' illegal file sharing, and ask them to send advisory letters as outlined above.

The possibility of account suspension, and the ultimate sanction of contract cancellation, should follow for those customers who choose not to take the advice.

We want our customers to enjoy music online, legally and safely.

Digital distribution of music should be a wonderful thing for musicians, for the companies that invest in them and for consumers.

Pretty much all of us - government, consumers, major ISPs, artists and other creative people - agree that we can make that happen by working together.

We know our campaign with Virgin Media is not, in isolation, going to solve the problem of how creators can be fairly rewarded in a digital environment.

But this is a genuine step in the right direction, and represents a turning point in the music community's bid to restore value in music to its rightful owners: the artists and music companies who invest in their creative careers.




SEE ALSO
Virgin territory for ISPs
09 Jun 08 |  Technology

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