"Piracy" And The 3 Strikes Law – A Few Thoughts From A Working Musician

Right, so “Lord” Mandelson has announced that the Government is indeed going to go ahead with their unenforceable nonsensical plans to “cripple the internet bandwidth of persistent file sharers“. Here’s a few highlights of the plans:

  • the cut-off is a ‘last resort‘, used if people don’t comply with requests.
  • the cost of monitoring will be “shared between ISPs and content providers” – that means that the labels that are already incapable of making money for the musicians signed to them are now going to fund this Wile E. Coyote-esque plan to catch people sharing files.
  • The ‘trade-off’ is that copyright ‘law’ will be rejigged so that now – WOW – “someone who has bought a CD would be able to copy it to their iPod or share it with family members without acting unlawfully.” (does he not remember listening to tapes made from his mum’s record collection in the car in the 80s??)

So, let’s recap what’s already been said about this –

  • statistics from the BPI and the Govt already suggest that the cost of implementing it are going to be higher than the potential ‘losses’ from people downloading free-stuff-that-the-people-who-administer-the-copyright-say-shouldn’t-be-available-without-paying-for-it.
  • It’s ONLY being supported by the muppets who want the untenable version of the ‘old music industry’ (a statistical blip in the timeline of humanity’s relationship with music that stretches back tens of thousands of years…) to continue in its unsustainable lottery-esque way.
  • EVEN the jewell in the pro-3strikes camp’s crown – support from the FAC – was, as Billy Bragg has said, unrepresentative.

So, what’s new?

Well, how does it work? Let’s have a look at that.

First up, let’s consider what can be measured to determine ‘illegal filesharing’? Well, the ways to identify the file itself would be through metadata – it being labeled as the music track, film, document, home movie, whatever. Or there’s the file size – you know when you put a CD into iTunes and it recognises what it is via the gracenote database, but it doesn’t if you put in a compilation CD of tracks you did yourself? That’s because it’s recognising files-size. or, more specifically for music, track-length as represented by file size. Quite often with CD singles of only 2 or 3 tracks, there’ll be multiple possibilities.

So, if you change the size of a file and mislabel it, it’s identity is completely impossible to determine.

So, your other alternatives for discerning ‘suspicious’ usage are based on tools or volume of traffic – ergo, “if you use Bit Torrent, you’re probably up to no good” (no mention of the myriad possible legal uses that are going to balloon over the next 5 years – let’s not forget that the iPlayer is [EDIT ‘was’ – see comments] P2P!), or “if you are downloading and uploading loads of massive files, you’re probably up to no good”. So when Lily Allen is swapping files with her producer for her next album (assuming she’s not too depressed by all this to bother making music), she’ll be flagged as a potential abuser based on the amount of traffic, and then what? A sampling of your files get diverted for analysis? Yeah, we’re all in favour of that. Mandelson’s Brave New World vision is complete. We’re living in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Awesome!

So, let’s have a look at what’s being reported about the problem of file-sharing…

There seem to be a lot of statistics about how many tracks are being downloaded outside of the terms of the current legislative framework, without money changing hands (sorry for the overly-long-winded terminology, but the notion of ‘piracy’ is ludicrous, and even illegality is often tenuous). Those statistics are collected because of the metadata that helps us find the stuff we want to download (that’s an all-inclusive collective ‘we’, not restricted to people I know or even agree with 😉 )

If I knew that 100,000 copies of my album had been downloaded without anyone paying for it, I’d be SO excited – what an incredible potential there is in that! 100 THOUSAND people wanting to listen to me enough to wait for the download, and I didn’t even need to advertise it for that to happen. It didn’t COST ME ANYTHING!! If it’s happening, I want to know about it. I REALLY REALLY don’t want that data disappearing. I need to know it, it’s part of my business strategy to be able to track that stuff. If a legal framework like the one Mandelson suggests is in place, I’ll no longer have that data. I’ll be robbed of the knowledge of who’s sharing my music, so I won’t be able to get the benefit from that.

Why won’t I have that metadata? Because filesharing will just become a different process – text-based private chat rooms will appear, files wanted will be discussed and then shared between individuals. It’s so easy, and it already happens. Some twitter DMs someone else, ‘have you got such and such a film/track/document, I need it for XYZ’ file gets sent via dropbox/IM/email/whatever. That + added encryption or file + metadata alternations = untrackable data. You don’t even need any new ‘IP hiding’ tech to do it. There’s nothing scary about it, it’s just networks of people connected by a shared interest in a particular cultural area swapping things related to it.

And in the meantime, they offer up a collective ‘fuck you’ to the government and the mainstream record labels and film companies, and see beating the draconian measures as a morally-driven act of defiance. And those agents lose the access to the massive potential well of magical goodness that is the data around file-sharing. Lose/Lose.

So, Mandelson is a behaving for all the world like a supreme bellend and his “law” is untenable, useless and massively counter-productive, as well as obstructive to the business practices of anyone attempting to embrace the opportunities of 21st century content distribution mechanisms, rather than drag us back to a world CD and DVD hegemony. Anyone got his phone number so I can have a chat?

16 Replies to “"Piracy" And The 3 Strikes Law – A Few Thoughts From A Working Musician”

  1. Steve,

    Well said, the plan is so obviously unworkable.

    The benefits to the artist of having recordings copied and shared are huge, but kind of peripheral to this discussion don’t you think?

    If an artist doesn’t want to acknowledge the sharing that goes on, or get excited about it, then it’s their choice.

    Sure, you would be excited about 100,000 downloaded copies but you’re a guy at ease with the way the new environment works!

    I’m not going to suggest an alternative plan for artists who feel they’re being wronged by filesharing.

    Overall I’m all for artistic freedom in this. I think in principle artists should be able to decide the licence for their work, Creative Commons, All Rights Reserved, whatever. It’s worth being serious about the choice you make and to be clear to the outside world.

    Mandelson’s plan seems to ignore that by assuming that ALL filesharing is bad or illegal.

    You seem to be at another extreme where artists should be made to realise the benefits of “21st century content distribution mechanisms”. For some people CD is actually still king. And for other artists it isn’t but they’d rather wallow then embrace the changes. Let them.

    You can talk about the magical goodness till you’re blue in the face. Some artists like you are happily swimming with the tide. And some just aren’t.

    I might have totally misunderstood you though.


  2. I had a conversation about ‘piracy’ with someone in which I stated baldly “Proper copy protection/DRM or whatever steps you would need to take to prevent ‘piracy’ would break the internet in some fundamental way (anonymity, freedom of access, etc). Surely all of the other industries which depend on the internet for income will prevent one industry screwing it for everyone else?”. Was I so off-beam?

  3. A few points from someone you know who works in the industry.

    1. iPlayer does not use P2P. Hasn’t done so for about 2 years now. Very unlikely to switch back to classic P2P protocols – they’re not efficient enough.

    2. Detection will *not* be based on metadata alone. Do a little research.

    3. You don’t have access to complete “metadata” at present – but I conceded you may have acccess to some.

    That said, the Geffen/Allen/Mandleson plan is flawed, but not for the reasons you state. Quite simply the tech is not up to the job. The power requirements for a start are huge. Should you talk with Mandleson, you’ll sound like a ranting geeky muso. Try taking a different tack.

  4. Steve, I agree wholeheartedly with what you say – it is refreshing in the extreme to hear from a musician who “gets it”, and embraces the future rather than clinging on to an outdated past business model.

    One small point – you mention the iPhone App Store as a triumph for DRM. This is only true up to a point – iPhone apps are actually pirated on a fairly massive scale, as once you “jailbreak” an iPhone, it is fairly trivial to install an App Store app purchased by someone else without paying for it. (I speak as an App Store developer, rather than a pirate!)

    That said, what Apple have done is to make that approach far less appealing by the combination of ease of use and low prices for the legitimate path – yes, I could jailbreak my phone, go and find an illegal copy of this app I want, and jump through all the hoops to get it – or I could just pay the three quid on my credit card and have it immediately with no hassle at all. Given the above, I am quite surprised that anyone even bothers with pirated content from App Store, but I think that just proves the point that there are people out there who simply won’t ever pay for software / music / films, and it is pointless trying to make them do so – which is one of the many points that the record companies and their puppet Mandy simply don’t get.

  5. Besides the insanity of trying to determine what is legal & what isn’t (I download booltlegs from official band sites & upload an awful lot of photographs) there is an even more worrying aspect to this.

    Say your errant son is doing the unlawful & gets caught. He’s using the family computer or at least the family router & account. That account is now blocked meaning no-one in the house may legally use the internet. Basically the innocent will be persecuted for the sins of guilty. Imagine the consequences if students at college use the academic accounts which then get banned or the employee who gets the works account blocked? It’s totally unworkable unless Lord M expects the innocent to accept punishment for the wrongs of others.

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