The debate over a leaked Green Paper that looks at possible legislation that would see communications service providers policing copyright infringement on behalf of the music and film industry has exploded once again. The Register is reporting that Tiscali and the BPI now disagree on who should bear the costs of a private arrangement the two bodies came to over policing copyright infringement.
"Relations between the pair are in disarray as they battle over who should cover the costs of sending warning letters to peer to peer users and then disconnect persistent copyright infringer's. The system the two-million-customer ISP believed it had agreed with the BPI is the same one that the government is pushing all ISPs to enforce.
It had been thought that the dialogue between the BPI and Tiscali would serve as a model for the rest of the internet industry, which is threatened with legislation if it does not come to a voluntary agreement to act against copyright infringement. The issue hit the mainstream at the beginning of this week, when leaked documents confirmed Westminster's plans to bring in new laws.
Last summer, the BPI sent Tiscali a list of 21 IP addresses it identified as having engaged in illegal peer to peer filesharing. Warning letters were sent out, and eventually four customer accounts were shut down.""Tiscali and BPI go to war over 'three strikes' payments", TheRegister 15/02/2008
The scheme on the surface sounds very similar to what has been covered in the press this week, but since nothing has been officially published on the exact procedures service providers and the media industry are proposing, it is not possible to say whether it would be sufficient to prevent legislation.
A key change with the Tiscali agreement is that in the past court orders have been obtained to link the IP addresses to a particular account and the copyright holder then pursues the suspected infringer. With the Tiscali/BPI system, assuming it works on similar lines as past reports, the BPI seem to be able to provide screenshots showing someone was offering a particular track for upload, though whether the BPI actually downloaded the file to make sure the file was what its title suggested it was is unclear. This screenshot would then be looked at by Tiscali who would then look up in their own records who the customer was and warn them or in the case of persistent offenders suspend/cancel their account.
Where things have fell apart is that the BPI disputes the charges Tiscali are making with regard to writing warning letters and disconnecting customers. In fact this is one area that will be very much under debate in the industry, since if this system becomes widespread the BPI and other bodies could clamp down initially and want thousands of initial warnings to be made. If the scale of the problem is to be believed it could be millions of warning e-mails.
A lot of debate has centered around how providers will monitor the traffic, which in this Tiscali/BPI case appears to be irrelevant as the screenshots or other evidence from the BPI appear to have been all that is used. Policing based on just this small amount of evidence might leave the system open to challenge from individuals who have been pursued by mistake.
At the end of the day copyright infringement and rows like this have existed since the days when the ability to record music first appeared. Times move on and many young people of today will never have seen a vinyl single with their exposure to music purchasing being a download from various online stores. One wonders how many of these people who pay for tracks they download are also using less legal sources for things like downloading remix versions and albums after having already paid for three or four tracks of an artist. The costs of downloading a full album is not far off the cost of buying a physical CD in many cases which simply encourages people who bought the hit single to look elsewhere for a copy of the album.
With what by all accounts is likely to be an expensive and unpopular agreement between service providers and the music/film industry looming is it not time to look at what can be done to encourage people to pay at least something for content? One other area that needs to be addressed is the quality of what is offered commercially, many music downloads offered at a single bit-rate without options for higher quality versions suitable for playing over high quality music systems. With films this is even more of an issue--Who wants to pay £2 to £3 for a film download that has just a 2 Mbps bit-rate and thus exhibits obvious compression artefacts when viewed on a large HD television screen.