It's not what you know, or what's right for the British public that matters: it's which billionaire music executives take you on holiday that counts. That's certainly a conclusion you could reach if you delve into the latest announcement that the UK will start disconnecting Internet users found to be using peer-to-peer technology to download copyrighted material. This is a proposal that only ever came to light after multiply disgraced Labour string-puller enjoyed the hospitality of entertainment supremo David Geffen.
As always, the government seems determined to prove it neither understands the people it's voted in by, nor the technology those people are using. There's a PDF now available with the proposals in full, and the timescales in which these measures will be enacted. What strikes us most is the lengths the government is going to in order to appease the entertainment industry.
This legislation is going to cost the British public millions in court costs and admin. It's also going to put a burden on ISPs who have to search records to find out who was using which IP address during the alleged infringement -- a cost it will surely pass on to the consumer.
It doesn't appear that the entertainment industry is going to pay for much of this. Instead, it'll set up traps on torrent sites -- the PDF describes this as phishing, which made us LOL -- to collect IP addresses and send those to ISPs. The ISP must then sort through its records to find the individual whom the entertainment industry wants to publically flog.
The cost for this could quickly spiral out of control. Ofcom will set up a body to hear appeals, which will be a substantial number of the total complaints lodged. Ofcom is proposing that after a file-sharer is notified that they'll be cut off, they'll have 20 days to appeal. Once the appeal is heard, if the outcome is against the accused, they can appeal again within 20 days and have the right to a tribunal within 30 days. If there's a large number of people in the system, this is quickly going to become a massive burden, and one that will cost the taxpayer money to police. It isn't even a crime -- it should be a civil matter. It's also going to move slowly, with the whole process taking months to complete.
Will this safeguard the livelihoods of those who work in creative industries? Will it mean more people buy music and DVDs? Our prediction: almost certainly not. For a start, the entertainment industry is mostly targeting public BitTorrent sites with this legislation. To avoid prosecution and continue to download all you want, you'll simply have to switch to a private BitTorrent tracker, or use newsgroups, IRC or FTP to get your illicit fix. We aren't advocating it, of course, but it is common knowledge.
The funniest thing of all, even rights-holders don't universally support these measures. For every Lily Allen there's a Billy Bragg, who believes penalising fans is the wrong way to address the problem of music downloading. Indeed, there's plenty of support from artists in all entertainment industries, including comedy writer Graham Linehan, who would prefer you didn't download his hilarious TV shows for free, but understands the benefits that such action can bring, as he explains in his inimitable way in a blog post.
It's also fair to say the entertainment industry has its numbers all wrong. It seems to think that if someone downloads something, they're stealing something they would otherwise have paid for. This is a preposterous myth. Do people watch movies at a friend's house, or borrow DVDs from each other? Of course they do. People simply don't want to own all the media they consume -- at least partially because the entertainment industry is greedy and over-prices its product. As Linehan says, we like to share. Ben Goldacre has a fantastic article about how badly these people have miscalculated: it's well worth a read.
Cutting people off simply won't work. It won't deter the hardcore leechers or the 'pirates' at the top of the food chain. It's a waste of public money, and a financial burden for the ISPs. People can easily avoid being caught. Worst of all, it's bound to go wrong: innocent people will be accused of crimes they haven't committed and the guilty will be smart enough to get away with it.
Oh, and one final thing. People who download are not pirates. Pirates are ocean-based criminals. Calling filesharers 'pirates' -- equating them with murderers -- is simply not good enough.