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By: MarkJ - 25 February, 2011 (7:06 AM)
UK DCMS internet copyrightmusic pirateThe UK government has this week hosted a crucial talk between broadband ISPs ( BT , TalkTalk , Sky Broadband etc. ) and the music industry ( UK Music, BPI, Universal Music, Warner Music, Sony etc. ). The aim was to facilitate the development of new legal ways for people to access music, film and other content on the internet without feeling they could only resort to "illegal" (unlawful) P2P copyright file-sharing activity.

The efforts are a critical part of the controversial Digital Economy Act (DEA), which seeks to warn and ultimately punish ISP customers who become "suspected" of involvement with internet copyright infringement activity (piracy).

TalkTalk’s Director of Strategy, Andrew Heaney, said recently:

"The DEA isn’t a sledgehammer to crack a nut – it’s a sledgehammer that misses the nut completely. Any legislation to combat file sharing needs to be proportionate, fair and balanced. The problems with the DEA are the cost, the ineffectiveness and the unintended consequences, such as vicarious liability. There is an open door [at TalkTalk and other ISPs] to all parties who want to discuss solutions, but we’ve had silence from the other side."

So far little progress has been made, with both the government and Rights Holders appearing to have focused on the stick instead of the carrot. Several ISPs, including Virgin Media UK, have also tried and failed to launch "unlimited" music download services due to Rights Holder objections.

Towards the end of last year even Sky ( Sky Broadband ) was forced to kill off its fledgling Sky Songs service (here) after it failed to attract enough customers. The outcome was hardly a surprise, not least because it offered no real incentives beyond what already existed in the wider market.

However, it now looks as if the situation could be changing for the better, at least that's what the governments Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is trying to sell. Apparently the talks produced some "real progress", which would be nicer to hear if we actually knew what it meant.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said:

"I am pleased to hear that real progress has been made by ISPs and the music industry on developing new and attractive services for consumers. The more choice consumers have, the less attractive the unlawful alternatives will be."

The Communications and Creative Industries Minister, Ed Vaizey, added:
"The nature of the internet means the creative industries, internet service providers and others such as Google and Yahoo are completely interlinked. They need each other for sustainable future success. We have brought the industries together so they can discuss the issues facing the digital industries and I am delighted that progress is being made.

Consumers demand choice. It is essential that new, legal methods to access films, music and other content on-line are developed, whilst enabling creators’ copyright to be properly protected."

It's good to hear that something positive appears to be coming out of those talks, although we've yet to see anything concrete and will be speaking with some ISPs in an effort to dig up precisely what "real progress" actually means. Sadly the group is not expected to meet again for another three months.

We long for the day when it's possible to watch the latest cinema releases on a home computer via legal means. We'd also love to see digital distribution channels adopt lower pricing and sales tactics like the high street, although so far only a few (e.g. Amazon) appear to have done so.

ISPs should also be allowed more flexibility to offer new types of music and film distribution services, which are attractively priced and offer something different to the existing models. Admittedly this does run the risk of making established services, such as iTunes, unhappy.

DRM and device specific restrictions, while less of an issue for modern music, are also still a problem. Having to buy the same media again just to play it on different device or with a higher quality does little to discourage abuse.

UPDATE 12:35pm

Having spoken with some of those who attended the meeting it's now become clear that "real progress" might be a bit misleading. The talk itself did involve a progress update on a number of areas that was useful, such as discussion over the practicalities of internet website blocking and the need for a "plan B, although other areas were less constructive.

One high ranking ISP source informed us that the meeting had been "a joke", with internet providers being outnumbered by rights holders "3:1". Apparently the government didn't listen and refused to answer a number of questions. Afterwards the ISPs had a meeting with Ofcom about costs.

Ofcom is currently reviewing the website blocking part of the DEA and the expectation is that they will find against such a measure, hence today's reports of the need for an alternative measure. Suffice to say that website blocking might be falling off the table but something will most likely replace it and there's still a chance that it will be retained.
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