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By: MarkJ - 13 September, 2009 (6:34 AM)
pirate flatThe Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), which campaigns for the protection of performers' and musicians' rights, has announced its opposition to an amended government proposal that would force UK ISPs to disconnect customers suspected of illegal downloading (original news). The unexpected move pits popular artists directly against their own labels.

However the coalition, which includes many recognisable names such as KT Tunstall and Radiohead, is no stranger to tackling big labels. Indeed their core aim has always been for all artists to have more control over their music and a much fairer share of any profits generated in the digital age.

FAC Statement:

We have serious reservations about the content and scope of the proposed legislation outlined in the consultation on P2P file-sharing. Processes of monitoring, notification and sanction are not conducive to achieving a vibrant, functional, fair and competitive market for music. As a result we believe that the specific questions asked by the consultation are not only unanswerable but indicate a mindset so far removed from that of the general public and music consumer that it seems an extraordinarily negative document.

The very fuzzy estimates for the annual benefits of such legislation (£200 million per year) make clear that such estimates are based firmly upon the premise that a P2P downloaded track equals a lost sale. This “substitutional” argument is, in reality, no more than “lobbyists’ speak”: it has little support from logic and no economist would seek to weave such a number into a metric aimed at quantifying a ‘value gap’ for the industries challenged by P2P.

In contrast to the lack of any credible evidence for the size of the substitutional effect, there is evidence that repeat file-sharers of music are also repeat purchasers of music, movies, documentaries etc. Recent research by MusicAlly has demonstrated the continued popularity of the CD as the purchased product of choice by many music fans. This combined with the continued significance of the CD in the revenue balance of record labels, suggests a much more complex equation in which file-sharing may erode sales, but where it may also promote other revenue streams. For this reason it is dangerous to view the downloading of music as the direct online equivalent of CD sales.

Instead the FAC continues on to state that the proposals would also be very costly to implement and fail to differentiate between the downloading and sharing of music by music fans, on a non-commercial basis, and those who seek financial gain or commercial advantage from such activity.

The FAC statement continued:

This second group of “commercial” P2P users and facilitators should be pursued with the full force of the law as is the case with illegal CD plants in the offline world. Ordinary music fans and consumers should not be criminalised because of the failings of a legacy sector of business to adapt sufficiently fast to new technological challenges.

This refreshingly different opinion from artists themselves is unlikely to be greeted warmly by big music labels, which still continue to believe that 7 Million Brits have been involved in illegal online file sharing (P2P) activity; despite that figure being exposed as misleading (here).

On the other hand it is also true to say that piracy should not merely be ignored, indeed some of the other technical proposals (e.g. blocking P2P sites, limit connection speeds etc.) were not totally unfair. True, it is easy to avoid restrictions like that, yet many casual consumers would still lack the knowledge to do so.

Similarly the argument that somebody who downloads 1000 illegal tracks may never have brought that many in the first place are fair but equally imperfect. The problem is not caused by the 1000 tracks they download so much as the 5 they now no longer need to buy.

Still, it is pleasing to see the FAC "vehemently oppose" new plans to get even tougher than the original Digital Britain proposals (here), which haven't even been given the chance to prove themselves. The FAC believes that the new proposals will alienate consumers and move the stick too far away from the carrot.
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