Illegal file-sharing: what does the public think?

The latest Ofcom survey of internet users in the UK shows that less than half believes downloading shared copies of copyright music and films should be illegal. 42% say it should be illegal, against 33% who believe it shouldn’t be illegal and 25% who don’t know.

I’m not aware of comparable figures for other laws, but 42% strikes me as  being a very low figure. It highlights another problem with the Government’s dalliance with taking tough (sounding) measures to enforce the law. Though Labour now is backing away from the idea that someone could be cut off from the internet without any need to follow a judicial process, that still leaves the question of whether a crack down is really technically workable or the best long term solution. The softness of public support for the law in this area adds another reason to doubt whether the Government is on the right course.

Most strikingly, there has been a clear drop in the popularity of filesharing in the UK – and that wasn’t caused by a crack down but by the increasing availability of legal downloads:

In December 2007 42% of 14-18s were file sharing at least once a month. In January 2009 this was down to just 26%.

The example I’ve used before – wanting to re-watch Mark Cavendish win the last stage of this year’s Tour de France – is still a striking one. There are lots of illegal uploads available for me to watch. What’s extremely difficult to find is any legal way of watching it again (save for an expensive compilation DVD). The real problem there is the lack of availability of legal options. I’m happy to pay to see that clip again. Catch me at the right moment and I’ll even say I want to pay. But that industry doesn’t want my money.

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  • Andrew Suffield 27th Oct '09 - 1:25pm

    Realistic solution? The media industry has proven they don’t want to play, because fighting the internet is more profitable in the short term. Nuke the lot of them with a mandatory licensing scheme for the public. We already have one of these for the radio: if you run a radio station and you want to play a song, then you just play it, and send a cheque to the relevant company at the end of the month. The license is mandated by law so the media company cannot refuse it or set any conditions; they can offer you a better deal than the statutory fee (but usually don’t), but that’s all. It’s simple, it works. Extend it to apply to all citizens instead of just radio stations, with reasonable fees that are comparable to what itunes is currently offering (I see no reason why a store that bundles it all up and provides it to you in a convenient format should not continue to make a profit).

    It would pretty much exterminate the big media companies and their supporting industry of lobbyists and lawyers, but I don’t see a problem with that. Artists would be slightly better off since they would have a higher chance of getting paid (big media companies generally find ways to not pay artists any royalties at all). File sharing systems would cease to be a problem because they would be more or less legal – they’d become the sort of utility service that Napster wanted to be.

    Sadly, I can’t see any government doing it, not with all the lobbyist scaremongering.

  • “Firstly it’s almost impossible to prove that the person you are convicting was sat at their computer and the one that pressed the download button (without rather scary hidden cameras in peoples’ homes) unless they live alone on a virus-free computer without any WiFi in the house.”

    Doesn’t seem to be a problem in child porn downloading cases. OK the material there is illegal per se but the situations are analagous.

  • One option is just to ignore the media companies who oppose filesharing, and the acts who sign to them. There are plenty of artists who are happy to let you share their music (particularly if you’re not doing it for profit) – not just big bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, but every band signed to Magnatune and other labels which use Creative Commons licenses which explicitly allow sharing.

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