Friday, January 27, 2006


There's just been an interesting little meeting on Radio 4's Today featuring Steve Redmond of the BPI, talking about the first court victories against filesharers.

two people who refused to settle with the BPI have been ordered to pay by a civil court. It's interesting that although the BPI want us to think of filesharing as a crime, they chose to take the easier route of a civil action rather than calling for a criminal prosecution, isn't it? One of the guys - who has to pay £1,500 straight away and will have to pay more in the future - is a postman with two kids; he didn't share a single file but is being held to account for the alleged actions of his kids. Still, we're sure he accepts that with Madonna having two London town houses to furnish now, and Coldplay only scraping thirty-odd million last year, these people need his money more than he does. And he lives in Brighton, so after the BPi has taken all his money, he can always eat fish, can't he?

Anyway, Redmond - who appears to get quite a buzz from leeching cash from poorer families - was on to talk about their famous victory. And let's not take it away from the BPI, they have conclusively proved that a cartel comprising four multinational corporations can, indeed, afford better legal representation than a postman from East Sussex; that's a landmark to note.

What was interesting was that Redmond parrotted the IFPI line from earlier this week that filesharing was being "contained" - we really don't recall this being an RIAA aim when it set out to start suing people that it merely wanted to "contain" filesharing; this attempt to disguise an admission of failure of their unpopular legal action strategy to turn the tide at all is fascinating; almost as if the record companies are starting to realise that they're not being harmed by filesharing in any significant manner. Because if they were, why would they be implicitly accepting the existence of millions of files swooshing about all over the place?

If, for example, a shop was being hit by shoplifters, and they spent tens of thousands on security cameras and guards, you wouldn't expect to hear the manager saying "well, we still can't keep the Viscount biscuits on the shelves, and the booze aisle still gets stripped bare as soon as the teachers from the school opposite come in, but we're happy we've contained the problem." They'd actually be more likely to view their security as having flopped, sack the guards and either upgrade the cameras or try something different. In effect, all this talk of a problem "contained" by the BPI-RIAA-IFPI is a tacit admission that, actually, filesharing isn't like stealing physical items in any way, shape or form.

The other curious shift in position came when Redmond was asked about the Arctic Monkeys who, famously, used the internets to give away music for free and then had the biggest selling debut album in all of time and space. Naturally, this very simple working example of the flaw of the BPI line (the album is selling massively because, not despite the music having been available for free on the internent) was something Redmond was keen to sidestep, so instead he fell back on that old favourite of the Thatcherite, choice.

The Monkeys had chosen to put their music online for free, he explained, and the BPI wanted to ensure that it was always the artists and labels' choice to put the music online for free, if that was what they chose to do. Which sounds reasonable, but can this be the same record industry who explained a while back they had no choice but to pour millions into closing down filesharing networks because it would be fatal if people came to believe the internet was a place where music was available for free. Now, it seems, they've come to terms with the idea that the internet is a place where you can get music for free. Another one of the planks for the legal campaign appears to have gone, then.