I’ve not seen any mention of the latest alarming, yet darkly comic mess that Big Music has got itself into through any of my usual online sources. But thanks to my ever-reliable offline source, my girl, I’m up to speed once more.
So, we all know that Big Music – aka the British Phonographic Industry here in the UK – is worried about illegal downloading and sharing of music over the net. They’re well known for pursuing their customers through the courts over this sort of thing. Well, that’s not proving enough for them, and they’ve started to attack the ISPs themselves (until now, their allies in the war against music piracy): just over a week ago, the BPI wrote to Tiscali demanding the immediate suspension of 17 of their users’ accounts. Tiscali, the poppetts, quite rightly told them where to go.
So, not satisfied with suing their customers or alienating their allies, the BPI, with almost Blairite zeal, have attempted to sidestep British legal formality itself. As Tiscali themselves put it, as quoted in The Lawyer,
It is not for Tiscali, as an ISP, nor the BPI, as a trade association, to effectively act as a regulator or law enforcement agency and deny individuals the right to defend themselves against the allegations made against them.
Damn straight. In The Lawyer’s analysis,
[T]he BPI is only risking its own credibility by going after the ISPs in such a public way rather than sticking to the established private routes. It is a little tactless. These are companies that have established legal departments and access to sizeable legal budgets. Unlike individuals, they are unlikely to be intimidated by BPI’s aggressive approach.
Who knows where this one’s going to end up: technically, the BPI might have a case, but this is legal territory without precedent and they’re playing a high stakes game against good players. We shall see.
Yahoo News (10 July):
The U.S. music industry tried to force telecoms companies to reveal the names of their customers allegedly using file-sharing networks to illegally share songs, but it lost a legal battle to do so in 2004. Record companies must now first obtain court-approved subpoenas against the unknown holders of ISP addresses, which then can be served on ISPs, allowing consumers to challenge the claims before their names are disclosed.
Yahoo News (12 July):
Tiscali … said it had received only extracts of a screenshot of one of its customers and nothing to support the allegations against the 16 others. “Further, you have provided no evidence of downloading taking place nor have you provided evidence that the shared drive was connected by the relevant IP address at the relevant time … If you wish to establish that downloading is taking place, please also provide evidence of this.”
Meanwhile, on a possibly uncoordinated front, another wing of the British recording industry, the Association of Independent Music, have launched their own attack on ISPs [pdf; html summary here]. To be fair, they’re showing the initiative and imagination you can expect from British indendent music and have come up with idea of charging ISPs, mobile phone networks and even MP3 player, mobile phone and computer manufacturers (!) every time their products are used to illegally distribute music. In some spectacularly weaselly language they talk of bringing these “unlicenced intermediaries” into the “official value chain”. Between the artist and the consumer sit, they argue, the real bad boys who are screwing us all, “Internet Service Providers (ISPs), mobile companies and device manufacturers”. “Real bad boys”, by the way, is industry-speak for “potential revenue stream”.
As Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, Suw Charman puts it, the whole idea is “ill-conceived and grasping”.