A clampdown is music to the record industry’s ears

The award for Fatuous Statement of the Month goes to Geoffrey Taylor, chief executive of the quaintly named British Phonographic Industry, aka the BPI. (Note for readers under 65: a ‘phonograph’ is an instrument that reproduces sound recorded on a grooved disk.) The winning statement reads: ‘For years, ISPs have built a business on other people’s music.’The context is that Taylor was commenting on reports that the forthcoming green paper on the so-called ‘creative industries’ will contain an explicit commitment to enact legislation compelling internet service providers (ISPs) to clamp down on illegal file-sharing. The BPI has lobbied politicians for years about this, and its chief executive is understandably cock-a-hoop about the government’s apparent conversion to the cause. His delight, however, ought not to persuade the rest of us to allow him to get away with talking arrant nonsense. So let us unpack his fatuous little observation….
Accepting the music industry’s demands would mean a radical transformation of the ISPs’ role – changing them from common carriers into organisations which have to know about every file they handle. This would be technically challenging and have terrifying implications for privacy; but it would also create horrendous legal liabilities for ISPs. As common carriers, they have very limited responsibility for what users do with their services; but as Taylor’s proxy snoopers they could be held liable – and not just for copyright infringement, but for lots of other questionable or controversial activities that people get up to on the net.

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