Six of the largest ISPs in the UK, working in concert with law enforcement, the film, and music industries, are planning to send approximately one thousand letters a week to clients who illegally upload or download music and movies. They plan to target the worst offenders first, using the threat of having one’s Internet service revoked instead of a direct threat of legal action as leverage against the users in question. Their goal is to reduce illegal filesharing by 80% before 2011 rolls around.
On one level, this plan makes sense, as it certainly puts a kinder face on the act of hunting down citizens than the RIAA ever bothered to present. The penalty itself is constructed as a business obligation–it’s like having the electricity or water cut off when you don’t pay the bill. But the fact that this penalty holds downright Orwellian implications will go over like a meal of cement and mulch.
For instance, a couple of years ago a guy I know grabbed The Machinist off of BitTorrent. He gave up on it halfway through, and deleted it make more room for
his mall emo CDs respectable stuff. Three weeks later, he got a letter from the school that was serving as his ISP, threatening to out him to Paramount if they caught him stealing another movie. Now, that doesn’t make The Machinist a better movie; one might argue that it creates a sour grapes situation where we joke about how Christian Bale deserved to starve for that piece of shit on principle.
What has to happen if the record companies want to end filesharing–or, at least, transform it into something more equitable for artists–is a cultural change in how and to what depth people value music, a change that can’t be instilled by legal maneuverings. One of my favorite comedians, Doug Stanhope, talks about stealing music off of LimeWire just to shame it. Elsewhere, he encourages people to steal his recordings and burn them off for friends. Granted, this is an artist whose best work is predicated on mocking the entire system of capitalist exhange, but the underlying point that he makes–that art is going to have to have broad exposure to members of niches if anyone is going to make a living–resonates.
In practice, this is already happening. Music-discovery services like Imeem and Last.fm both make the means to buy readily available. Subscription services offer another way to pony up. But what’s missing is a synthesis between the act of buying a piece of music and the process of searching out something the consumer truly loves and would be a little bit worse off without. In the same sense that dozens of strains of DIY music only exist because of time and capital invested by true believers, the recording industry needs to demand and enable that synthesis of one’s willingness to invest and the intangibles of great art. Suing, indicting, and denying services to fans isn’t the answer; campaigning to make us believe in something more than the money while making sure that the infrastructure to monetize that belief is there is the solution. It’s contradictory on one level, but it’s also imperative.
Government wants to cut illegal filesharing by 80% by 2011 [The Guardian]