Virgin warns internet users to respect copyright

July 2008

Internet, record labels

Virgin Media will send letters to thousands of its own customers in households where music is either being downloaded or illegally shared as part of a joint approach to online piracy with the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). The BPI ultimately wants internet companies to implement a “three strikes and out” rule to warn and ultimately disconnect the estimated 6.5 million customers whose accounts are used for regular criminal activity (a procedure already in the process of being introduced in France).

This news prompted a response from journalist Bill Thompson on the BBC website, calling continued attempts by traditional content owners to curb online piracy a “doomed enterprise as the growth of a fast internet coupled with the ability to make perfect copies of digital content means that all of the assumptions that underpin film studios, TV broadcasters and record companies have been stripped away, leaving them flailing around, threatening and suing the people who should be their best customers and hoping to persuade politicians to pass new laws to give them special privileges online. He did, however, acknowledge that the situation was changing saying “As more licensed download services become available, many offering songs without usage restrictions enforced by digital rights management technologies, the wholesale copying of unlicensed copies becomes a lot less defensible.” He added that while Virgin was spinning its collaborative effort with the BPI as a bid to be socially responsible, they themselves were content owners, and that in fact their willingness to spy on their own customers was more about self preservation. He predicted that Sky and BT, who both have their own content platforms to protect, will follow suit via their internet service provider divisions. The BPI then published their own comment from CEO Geoff Taylor, who said: “It’s naive at best to think licensed music services can prosper without action being taken against illegal downloading. Indeed it’s Bill Thompson, rather than music companies, who is stuck in the past. Music companies are radically re-inventing their business models in response to changes in how music fans want to access music online. Yet Thompson’s digital utopianism clings to an implausible and dated belief that the internet will be an endless free lunch”.

On the same day this news came British Music Rights published the results of a new survey showing that the ‘average kid on the street’ has 800 illegally copied songs on their iPod or MP3 player, and that half of them are more than happy to share their entire digital music collection with anyone online. The survey, by the University Of Hertfordshire, says that the average young person’s music player contains 1770 songs, of which 842 are illegal copies. Feargal Sharkey, CEO of BMR admitted the survey made for grim reading saying “I was one of those people who went around the back of the bike shed with songs I had taped off the radio the night before. But this totally dwarfs that, and anything we expected”. He said the solution lies in developing more and better legal services, and in making breaking copyright “unappealing”. In fact the survey also showed that respondents were still interested in buying CDs for their favourite artists, and that 80% would be willing to pay to use a good legit P2P file sharing service. And there was good news to back up the BPI and BMR as legal download service Qtrax announced that it had EMI, Universal, Beggars Banquet and all four major music publishers now signed up, saying “we are pleased to present free and legal music downloads starting June 18 2008.”.

Details of the survey have just gone online at

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