The lasting impression from the recent Digital Britain summit was complaints from parts of the audience that there was too much infrastructure talk and too little on file-sharing and ensuring people observe copyright laws. The reality was actually the reverse, since the infrastructure debate hardly told us anything new.
The impression one gets from the latest 'illegal file-sharing' report and how some places are reporting things is that illegal sharing costs £120bn, but figures of £4 billion are mentioned as the lost sales from DVD's globally. Estimating the cost of file-sharing is near impossible since many downloads will simple be people building personal collections that they never ever would have purchased. The figures will also include people who are downloading material they already have a copy of, e.g. downloading an MP3 or FLAC version of their vinyl collection. The review titled 'Attitudes and Behaviours of Digital Consumers in the online world', which can be downloaded here, appears to make its conclusion clear from the first page with a price label, where £9.99 is crossed out and £0.00 shown. Some people will leech and never ever buy anything from an artist, others may be ardent concert goers downloading illegal recordings of a gig.
Places to download movies legally are appearing, but too often the cost is more than many of the DVD or Blu-Ray by post services and the file formats are limited by both the use of DRM and low bitrate encoding. The arrival of Amazon in the MP3 market has driven down pricing, with some tracks available for 29p each, and sometimes less if buying the whole album.
One saving grace for the media industry in the UK in relation to the file-sharing issue has been the adoption of usage limits for the majority of connections. Usage limits may offer one way out of the current catch-22, perhaps by offering an additional licence allowing consumption of music/video from any source where usage does not count towards the connections allowance. The big media houses seem keen on the broadband providers policing the traffic, how does one recognise the traffic of a user who has paid their PRS (Performing Rights Society) fees to stream music from a website, to one who is providing illegal streams?
One wonders how the authors of the report managed to fit 20,000 DVD films (nominally 5GB in size) onto a 1 TeraByte (TB) hard drive, even at high levels of compression only suitable for a portable MP4 player a film is around 0.5GB squeezing 2000 films on a 1TB disk. The creative industry is right to be worried though. People with broadband have the worlds media at their finger tips through their favourite search engine. Competing with 'free' is difficult, especially as the 'free' culture has been allowed to flourish. If the UK passes legislation that successfully controls file-sharing, there will be those who find ways around any control which could be as crude as a friend outside the UK posting them a hard drive every month or two. Additionally the UK is just a population of around 60 million in a world of 6 billion, i.e. just a drop in the ocean.