Friday, March 04, 2005

THEY REALLY DO THINK THEY'RE THE POLICE, DON'T THEY?: Who's that knocking at the door? It's our chums at the BPI, giggling and spraying themselves with champagne as they celebrate pocketing cash from filesharers:

UK record companies’ trade association the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) today announced that 23 UK internet users have agreed to pay thousands of pounds in compensation for distributing music illegally via peer-to-peer networks on the internet.

The BPI said it will also bring 31 new cases against filesharers from across the UK as it steps up its campaign against illegal filesharing. And in a broadening of the campaign the new actions will span eight different filesharing networks. Further cases will follow.

Ooh, don't you love their firm slap of their black leather gloves. They know where you live, they do.

BPI Chairman Peter Jamieson said, “Unauthorised filesharing is against the law. It effectively steals the livelihood of musicians and the record companies who invest in them. We will not hesitate to protect the rights of our members and the artists they represent.”

Do we need to go through the basics of this again? Unauthorised filesharing of some copyright material is against the law, not all unauthorised filesharing, all the time. It would only "effectively" steal the livelihood of a musician if the files shared result in a lost sale; it's equally possible it could generate sales and, thus, actively increase the livelihood of a musician. Record companies, contrary to Mr. Jamieson's assertion, do not actually have livelihoods - but then saying "it harms corporate profitability" doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Record companies do not "represent" artists; that is what agents do - record companies employ artists. But other than that, of course, we're in total agreement with what he says.

BPI General Counsel Geoff Taylor said, “We are determined to find people who illegally distribute music, whichever peer-to-peer network they use, and to make them compensate the artists and labels they are stealing from.

Oddly, there doesn't seem to be anything at all on the rather lengthy news release about how the money from the people they've caught will be passed on to the artists. Shouldn't, say, the Musicians Union be involved in distributing this bounty?

“These settlements show we can and we will enforce the law. No one should be in any doubt that we will continue to do so.”

Actually, you're not there to enforce the law. What you appear to have done is merely used the law. The BPI is not a law enforcement agency; it is not part of the criminal justice system. You're a trade body.

The 23 settlements announced today arise out of the 26 cases announced by the BPI in October 2004. Three cases are still in negotiation and legal action may follow.
The settlements include internet users from all over the UK – 17 men and six women. The average settlement is more than £2,000 – more than a month’s salary for the average UK worker. Two illegal filesharers are paying more than £4,000 each to settle their cases.

Let's not complain that the BPI sound gloatingly delighted at depriving people of two months' average income. Nor, come to that, eight hundred hours worth of work on the minimum wage. It's wrong, of course, to deprive artists of their livelihoods. But a bloody laugh when the BPI do it some other poor sod, isn't it?

BPI General Counsel Geoff Taylor explained, “We have no desire to drag people through the courts. So we have attempted to reach fair settlements where we can.

... but failing that, we just use our massive financial firepower to crush people into accepting any settlement at all. There is a hell of a reluctance to take these issues before court, where a judge might decide on slightly less enormous settelments, or, indeed, take a long, hard look at the actual issues underlying the claims of 'filesharing is theft.' You betcha they don't want to go through the courts. It's a little curious that the BPI is trying one minute to sound like a bunch of hardcases - "that's over a month's bloody earnings, that is"; the next like reasonable guys - "nobody wants to go to court..."

“We hope people will now begin to get the message that the best way to avoid the risk of legal action and paying substantial compensation is to stop illegal filesharing and to buy music online, safely and legally, instead.”

Interesting - actually, of course, the best way to avoid the risk of this is merely to not file share. Buying music legally has nothing to do with avoiding legal actions. It's like saying 'Don't go to court - don't shoplift; buy our products instead.'

The BPI announced that it will be going to the High Court today seeking orders for the disclosure of the identities of a further 31 illegal filesharers on a range of peer-to-peer networks, including KaZaA, eDonkey, Grokster, Soulseek, DirectConnect, Limewire, Bearshare and Imesh.

Although impressive developments in legal download services saw an estimated 9 million download sales in the UK in 2004, there are still millions of individuals in the UK who persist in trading files illegally.

Those swine! Those persistent, persistent swine.

Said Taylor, “If illegal filesharers think that they can avoid getting caught by staying away from the most popular networks like KaZaA, they’re wrong. We are going to continue bringing cases against people who distribute music illegally, whichever filesharing network they use, for as long as it’s necessary. Legitimate music services can only prosper if we continue to fight the theft of music on the internet.”

Really? There's no way, then, that legitimate music services can do rather nicely alongside shady filesharing? Then what is iTunes selling three hundred million songs?

The BPI’s action against illegal filesharing in the UK is part of a global campaign by the record companies who invest in new music, seeking to turn the tide on internet piracy.

Research shows that illegal activity on the once most-popular filesharing network Fast Track – on which KaZaA runs – has plummeted, with the number of users in January 2005 down 45% from its peak in April 2003.

While some more determined illegal filesharers are migrating to other networks, the combination of superior legal services and the threat of legal action means that despite increasing broadband penetration, authorised services are growing at a faster rate than illegal services.

Or perhaps they're all swapping Torrents now?

With thousands of cases launched against the users of other illegal networks, illegal uploaders are learning that there is no place to hide; the number of eDonkey servers is down by 61%, BitTorrent servers and users are down 66% while the Direct Connect network has also seen a decline in the number of servers.

There's some interesting and totally meaningless statistics - down what from where since when? How come bittorrent servers and users have magically declined at exactly the same rate?

Then there's some frequently asked questions - odd that the press release announcing all this had FAQs; who had been asking these questions frequently prior to the announcement?

If these uploaders were trading thousands of files £2,000 doesn’t seem very much.

For anyone on average earnings £2,000 is a lot of money – around a month’s salary. The amounts we settled for varied according to the number of files that were illegally uploaded and the specific circumstances of the case, but this action is about deterrence rather than compensation; the aim was to settle these cases where possible rather than sue people.

Ah, bless... rather than asking how the BPI can justify demanding 800 hours worth of wages from people - in fact, one of those caught was a student, so has been hit with an even more crippling bill - they think people might be outraged that the BPI isn't leeching enough cash without having had to demonstrate a single penny in loss revenue. Marvellous. And if the idea is "deterrence rather than compensation", what's all that in the press release about "mak[ing] them compensate the artists and labels they are stealing from" - is this about deterrence or is this about compensation? Does the BPI actually know why it's doing this; or is it just they got a call from the RIAA asking them to join in?

Were there any parents/children among those who settled?

Given that people have settled with us and undertaken to the High Court not to do it again, we don’t see any advantage in dragging them through the press. However some of the account holders were parents and – looking at the files they were distributing - it’s highly likely that they settled on behalf of their children. The alternative would have been to put their children through the ordeal of a possible court case. Most parents would not want to put their children in that position.

It’s true to say that some parents have been genuinely shocked to discover what their children have been up to.

This is just bemusing - why would saying 'yes, three of the downloaders were probably children' be "dragging them through the press"? And if the idea is deterrence, surely issuing a press release saying 'BPI takes cash off parents - kids had shared music' be a much better detterent than not? We can't help but be a little sickened by a trade body that seems to be well aware that the minor transgression has been done by a child happily piling in and demanding cash from the parents under threat of "dragging the children through the courts." Firstly, how exactly would the BPI go about suing someone under 18 anyway? Even if it did want to make itself look so unpopular? Secondly, since the parents have done no wrong, what exactly are they being punished for?

Still, there's a few more quid going towards Sony's bottom line. We shall all sleep more soundly in our beds tonight. Except the parents who've had to flog them to keep their kids out the courts.

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