Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Online Piracy and the Digital Report

Before I start this post I should point out that I am in no way an expert in media law (nor either an amateur for that matter) or have fully been following all events surrounding the relevant legal cases. However, I have read a few newspaper articles on the subject, the final one being from the 10th May's edition of the Sunday Times (link here: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/media/article6256570.ece) and had a chat with some friends on the matter.

The current situation, at least apparently to me, is that a 'Digital Report' is being written up with the aim of advising how to tackle online piracy. The big media firms including Universal Music and Sony Pictures are trying to get this report to include legislation to for internet providers to collect and report data on their users' actions. To me, this approach seems to be missing the point completely. The discussion of whether illegally downloading music, films, etc is correct or not is not for now; I am assuming that we need a fix for it.

The fix from the media corporations' perspectives seems to be a 'just don't do it, or we'll get you' solition. However legally justified this perspective is, it simply will not work. Firstly, if the ISPs collect all data from each customer they have they will have a huge, huge amount of data. Think about how much data is moved around the web these days. From this, assuming that they know which traffic is media, how will they determine if it's legitimate or not? It could have been purchased, or it could be a friend's holiday movie; it's just video/audio data after all (isn't it? correct me if I'm wrong). I assume they would need knowledge of purchase information somehow, and the relevant certificates of each download server.

Second to that, the assumption is that there is one user per connection. What about shared households? What about public wifi hot spots? What about people who aren't 'tech savvy' enough to set up their router with the correct security?

These problems don't even mention privacy issues. This is a pertinent topic for the end user, but I will not involve it here as it doesn't necessarily concern the corporations.

The solution is not bully tactics such as those proposed. The solution is to understand the social aspects of internet usage. Why do people download music and films? I very much doubt that it's because they are hardened criminals wearing balaclavas as they steal music. I assume they just want easy access to music. With this understanding a solution that matches these social aspects can be produced that is so desirable that it makes no sense not to use them. People will naturally migrate over to these solutions, massively reducing piracy beyond anything that the heavy handed approach suggested previously could achieve.

And this isn't just an ideology. These solutions are emerging already for music. Take services such as Deezer (www.deezer.com) and Spotify (www.spotify.com). These solutions (Spotify is my personal fav, but others seem to like Deezer) provide a really easy to use interface that is clean and simple, and most importantly address some of the social requirements; people have easy access to music and, with Spotify, can share playlists and recommendations with friends by using the traditional web links provided by the app. These applications are completely legal and are monetized, not by the end user, but by selling advertising space (auditory and on screen) to other corporations. This then covers the costs of paying the media corps for the rights to stream the music. I assume this is much like a traditional radio advertising model. Further to this, for those end users who are willing to pay a small fee they can cut out the advertising and have uninterrupted access to music.

What I would like to see in this Digital Britain report is not the heavy handed controlling approach suggested, but a more innovative (to use an already overly used word) approach which addresses the 'problem' and finds workable solutions. Hey, it could even help the industry. With the heavy handed approach people who can't afford music won't listen to it (for fear of legal action). Under the approach that Spotify and Deezer are taking, the whole market segment will accelerate with people listening to music and watching films much more. A more active market segment can only be good for the industry surely?