Sara-Jayne Clover

Are the various copyright industries in Europe the most effective IP groups when it comes to lobbying for its interests? The answer surely has to be yes. Last week, the European Commission announced plans to extend protection on sound recordings to 95 years, now the British government is proclaiming a groundbreaking deal between broadband providers and Britain’s music and film industries.

In a three month trial, the six largest internet service providers (ISPs) – who make up 90% of the UK market – will send weekly letters to 1,000 prolific illegal downloaders in an attempt to combat net piracy.

The agreement will been seen as quite a breakthrough for the British Phonographic Industry and the Motion Picture Association of America who claim that piracy is costing them billions of pounds in lost revenue every year.

The British government plans to encourage the success of this voluntary deal by threatening to enforce statutory regulation and fines on those ISPs not seen to be doing all they can to deter illegal downloading from as early as next year. While it’s not totally clear just how this legislation will be enforced, Ingrid Silver, media expert at UK law firm Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS), sees the deal as a “very positive development for the entertainment industry”. She continues:

It is a very public acknowledgement of the rights of content creators, and the need for them to see a return on their activities in order to sustain the industry. Clearly this is only one aspect of the solution, since there is a general willingness to pay a fair price for content services, but the market has not yet achieved critical mass in delivering monetisable services which meet people’s requirements. We can expect to see some very exciting developments in terms of the services which appear in the market over the coming year, particularly in the areas of micropayment and the infrastructure surrounding content reporting standards.

Yet, while this deal is certainly a victory for the music and film industries, is it fair on the consumer? Obviously the goal is to put a stop to piracy, but is this the most PR-friendly way of achieving that? Presumably these letters will be sent to the bill payer. But the bill payer is not necessarily the infringer. As John Linneker, internet law expert at DWS points out:

It is a bold and risky step for service providers to agree to write warning letters to their own customers threatening to unplug their internet access. There are some very obvious practical problems in this sort of strategy. For example, it seems unfair to penalise a household by removing internet access because the babysitter did a bit of file sharing while the parents were out having dinner!

While this may be true, I can understand why the broadband providers would be eager to collaborate with the music and film industries now rather than face a battle later. In some European countries, there seems to be a move in the courts towards internet companies being held liable for the activities of their users, and these British ISPs will not want to be stung with the same damages recently awarded against eBay for failing to prevent infringement occurring on its platform. And if the courts will not do it in the UK, the chances are that the government will.

Unlike patents and trademarks, copyrights are pretty easy to get your head round. On top of which, government ministers will always find time to listen to rock stars and Hollywood icons. Owners of other types of IP don’t necessarily have the power to manufacture such effective photo opportunities.