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ShareGuilty until proven innocent is wrong approach to file sharing

Government plans to make ISPs responsible for cutting off suspected file sharers in an effort to curb online piracy of films and music have come in for a lot of criticism. Not only is the move seen as placing unfair onus on ISPs to monitor, manage and control the activities of their customers, but it has also been seen as a move likely to lead to many users being unjustly excluded from using the Internet.

Darren Farnden, Marketing Manager

Darren Farnden, Marketing Manager

Even Which? magazine, much admired for standing up for the rights of consumers and ensuring that they get a fair deal, has said that it will call on the government to ensure that it has a much more rigorous method in place for identifying those who are file sharing and those who are not.

One of the problems of course, is that it is very difficult to be certain of exactly what users are doing and whether or not their activities once they have downloaded a file are illegal or not. Simply tracking an IP address that appears to be downloading a lot of material, then passing that information to the ISP with the insistence that they investigate or even prevent them having access, would be unfair and inadequate. Yet that is exactly what the government is planning to do at present.

Entanet and all responsible ISPs will always act on every notice of a possible infringement they receive, but we are also concerned that this policy leaves massive and growing potential for individuals or firms to be wrongly accused of file sharing. It is also worth remembering that IP addresses can be spoofed, re-directed and even hi-jacked.

Ultimately, in our view, fighting the battle this way will result in it being lost.

What’s needed is a total re-think of how digital rights are managed and controlled by the entertainment industry. They need to come up with a way of maximising availability while also protecting the copyright of the material and thus profiting from its eventual popularity. This is not going to be easy of course as, in order to make a film, video or piece of music a success, you need to find a way to make it available. At the moment, once a user has it in their possession in the form of a file that they can play back, stopping them from copying that file and / or sending it elsewhere is very difficult.

In essence, the very thing that makes a song or video popular – the ability for it to be shared – is also the problem. It is really the same problem that we have always had with the Internet in that it removes barriers and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to control the spread of information and bar entry to markets. This though, has also been one of the main benefits of the Internet – it has created truly global markets, removed the barriers to entry for smaller and more innovative companies, and made information (as well as video and music) much more freely available to everyone.

Music and increasingly file and television programs are now being distributed mainly via the Internet and that’s making it harder to control their distribution and to capture income from everyone that listens to or plays them on their PC, hi-fi, MP3 player, mobile phone, or TV.

Perhaps what’s needed is some extended form of licensing or Performing Rights Society, which extends its reach to just about everyone and makes it possible for the entertainment industry to open up its content to everyone. In any event, as we’ve said previously, we think it’s high time that rights holders rethink their distribution models to take account of modern channels and the nature of customer demand. We suspect that, whatever holders do, if people want to watch a film, video clip or listen to a piece of music enough, they will find a way to do that. Most people are also pretty honest and respect the artists that produce the material in the first place so, in the end, they should be willing to pay for that piece of entertainment.

We don’t pretend have the answers at the moment – and quite clearly nor do governments or the film and music industries. But to place all the onus on the ISP and to adopt a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ approach to people who might or might not be file sharing, is wholly wrong and, in the long run, a strategy that just won’t work.

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