Peter Mandelson and the £50,000 fines for music downloaders

It doesn't seem fair that depriving a music store of its physical property would be considered less criminal than creating a new copy of some data. Particularly when there's often no legal alternative

When you read a story in the Daily Mail, sometimes it's hard to know if it's based in the same universe that the rest of us inhabit. So when I read that Peter Mandelson had proposed a strict new law that could see filesharers subjected to a £50,000 fine, and potentially prison time, I had to double-check with other publications. But it does indeed appear that Mandelson has made the proposals, which could see all sorts of people in some very hot water.

The decision to propose these new punishments seems to have occurred after Mandelson had a lovely cosy dinner with David Geffen. Pure coincidence, I'm sure. Geffen is famous for setting up Asylum Records and Geffen Records, and being a co-founder of DreamWorks SKG. Geffen has always been a strong anti-piracy advocate. You can see why -- his personal fortune is a paltry $4.6bn, so he's clearly been horrifically mauled by music downloaders.

I'm not saying music downloading is okay. But I am incredibly frustrated by the speed at which the music industry seems to move. Only this week I wanted to download a dance track, but couldn't because it wasn't available 'in my region'. And this is the issue. Both the music and film industries are falling over themselves to protect their monopolies. We see it in DVD region coding, and we see a situation where I can't buy a song, but I can download it illegally from a free file-hosting site.

I don't doubt some of those people who are fined, if these proposals are enacted, will deserve it. After all, selling pirated music is inexcusable. The problem is it's hardly ever those people that are hit with the big fines. Look to America, where people sharing 30 files are fined $675,000 -- not the people running the top sites that feed the whole online filesharing community.

These fines have the potential to be more costly than if you walked into the shop and stole the CD. It doesn't seem fair that depriving a music store of its physical property would be considered less criminal than creating a new copy of some data. Particularly when there's often no legal alternative.

What do you think? Are massive fines and potential prison terms fair punishment for downloading music? Is it the only way to discourage people?

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