Apparently it has taken the government to broker a deal between the BPI and six major broadband providers (BT Retail, Virgin Media, Orange, Tiscali, BSkyB and Carphone Warehouse). This initial memorandum of understanding (MOU) is not the final solution to combating copyright violations over internet connections, but a step towards what the BPI would like to see which is a stepped process where persistent violators could see their broadband contract cancelled. The six broadband providers who have signed up represent over 90% of UK broadband connections.
The full press release from the BPI can be read at www.bpi.co.uk. The government department involved in brokering the deal was the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), the Motion Pictures Association of America has also signed the memorandum, along with the six providers named above.
"This MOU represents a significant step forward, in that all ISPs now recognise their responsibility to help deal with illegal file sharing.
BPI has always believed that a partnership approach is the best way forward, as we showed with our education campaign with Virgin Media, launched in May. This has demonstrated that ISPs and the music business can work together positively to raise awareness about illegal filesharing. And, working with government, we have been able to build on that progress and encourage other major ISPs to start taking a responsible approach.
In addition, the music business is constantly innovating to offer new, safe and legal ways to enjoy music online, and to create a future for digital music where creativity and copyright are respected. This MOU will help to create an environment in which such new digital services models can flourish."BPI Chief Executive Geoff Taylor
So what does this agreement mean? It would seem that in the next year hundreds of thousands of informative letters will be sent out by ISPs to their customers in response to information provided by the BPI/MPAA where illegal activity has been identified. Remedies for repeat offenders have not been agreed as yet, but will be developed in conjunction with Ofcom. The solution preferred by the BPI is commonly known as the three-step procedure (often also referred to as 'three strikes').
It would seem no-one doubts that a large amount of music and film content is downloaded without a penny going to the rights holder. The BPI lists a figure of 150 million single track downloads sold in the UK since iTunes launched in 2004, but unlawful downloads topped this by a factor of 20 to one. It is impossible to know how accurate this figure is and there is very little published information on how many people have downloaded a track or two before buying a full album. This agreement is largely driven by the fact that while previous civil litigation has been successful, the costs of bringing masses of people to court would be enormous apart from in the most serious of cases not to mention the negative PR implications of such action.
A common issue raised by consumers is how accurate is the information provided to broadband providers. For the cable industry with the risk of cloned modems this may be a serious issue and for broadband providers using dynamic IP address assignment the accuracy of the BPI and broadband providers' clocks will be crucial. The BPI is confident that its information is accurate and suggests the same level of evidence collection will be used as as in previous court cases. Though if hundreds of thousands of letters go out, it would only take a couple of high profile errors to bring the system into disrepute and cause havoc for the scheme.
While the BPI is simply asking broadband providers to act as a conduit and pass on letters based on the BPI evidence, one can see broadband providers wanting to do their own checks to verify the allegations. At the end of the day the broadband providers currently look to be the ones that will lose business in an effort to reduce the losses in the media industry.
Will this memorandum have the effect the BPI wants? As always only time will tell, the most prolific offenders will simply change their tactics or move to providers that are not signed up and as there will always be new start-up broadband providers they are unlikely to run out of places to hide. A big risk is if the majority of people targeted are those that have downloaded just one or two tracks a year and take offence to a warning letter and reduce the amount of legal music they purchase, relying on free solutions like the TV and radio for their music.