Ever since broadband was set up and made readily available to the general public, illegal music downloads have gone through the roof. Today, approximately 95% of all downloads are illegal and some 6.5m broadband users illegally download music on a daily basis.
Earlier this year, the music industry decided that enough was enough and that this multi million pound purge needed to stop. Discussions with John Hutton (The Business Secretary), Andy Burnham (The Culture Secretary) and major internet service providers (ISPs) resulted in tough new proposals governing the illegal download scene.
At this point, it is perhaps worth outlining the law when it comes to downloading music. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) is the current UK copyright law and gives the creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works the right to control the ways in which their material may be used. These rights cover broadcast and public performance, copying, adapting, issuing, renting and lending copies to the public. By downloading music files illegally, you are in breech of the copying part of this law.
ISPs have been pressurised into clamping down on persistent illegal downloaders and in June of this year, Virgin Broadband (one of the largest ISPs in the UK) agreed to take steps towards culling downloads. Virgin expect to send out more than 12,000 letters over the course of the summer to internet users warning them to stop their illegal downloads or face restrictions on their service.
So what does this mean for internet downloaders? Well, Virgin are keen not to punish their users, they would rather ‘educate’ them on the wrongs of downloading illegally. Sounds like a cop out and a good way round enforcing the law, but they might not have much choice on this in a year’s time.
Huttin and Burnham, along with bosses from the music industry want tighter rules surrounding illegal downloads. One of the proposals includes placing a 30 GBP annual charge on people who want to download files. This would give users unlimited access to download files from anywhere on the net, without the worry of facing up to law. 30 GBP may not sound a lot, but as Peter Jenner stated; “If you get enough people paying a small amount of money you can turn around the wheels of the music industry.” The funds from these fees are worth almost 1.2bn GBP and would be channelled back to the industry and distributed proportionally back to the relative rights holders.
Obviously looking for the toughest penalties for repeat offenders, industry bosses are calling for a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy, similar to the scheme currently employed in France. Persistent offenders would be warned and banned if they didn’t stop. Other proposals include preventative filters which stop the possibility of any illegal download activity or, illegal downloaders’ details being given directly to the music industry for punishment.
Sites like Napster brought illegal downloads to the masses and were relatively untouched by officials for many years until they realised just how much impact illegal downloads were having on the music industry. In 2001, the company were forced to shut down after being found guilty of copyright infringement laws.
Today, Napster is a legitimate trading company and sells downloads instead of offering them for free. iTunes are the biggest players in this market and dominate the scene with a 70% share of legal music downloads. It took less than five years to reach 1bn downloads, and keen to show that legal downloads are the way forward, the company rewarded the downloader, Alex Ostrovsky, with a brand new iMac, ten iPods and a 10,000 USD (5,700 GBP) iTunes voucher. Not a bad return on his 99p investment.
In 2006, the download market really came up trumps when Gnarles Berkley had a hit with Crazy. The song hadn’t even been released on CD when it hit the top spot in the UK charts after Zane Lowe championed the song on his New Music Show.
So will pressure from the industry actually have any effect on downloads? ISPs have already cleared themselves of any wrong doing as they are merely ‘conduits’ of information - they don’t personally hold the files.
Illegal downloads will inevitably continue as new methods of file sharing are discovered and employed. At the end of the day, rules are there to be broken and problems are there to be solved. As long as CDs cost as much as they do, downloaders will see no reason to stop what they are doing. If a CD costs less than 1GBP to produce, the question remains: Why are we charged the earth to purchase them?