UK Threatens To Cut Off Filesharers’ Internet Access

Jul 28th, 2008 // 4 Comments

hamburglar.jpgSix 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]

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  1. Chris Molanphy

    Nicely put.

  2. Anonymous

    I quite enjoyed what St. Etienne’s Bob Stanley had to say in the Times as well, along with its wonderfully provocative title:

    [www.timesonline.co.uk]

  3. KikoJones

    @daveknapik:

    I love how artists who have done their stint in the record industry “machine” now enjoy telling us how the internet is the Holy Grail for us unknowns. Yeah, just get on MySpace, build a fanbase, tour the world and live happily ever after. Of course! What was I thinking?

    Being on MySpace is like getting your record in every Tower Records in the country 10 years ago: if nobody knows it’s there, what’s the point?

    Yes, you can do it on your own. But do you have the money to pay a publicist, the connections to get a slot on a good tour, the clout to get on Conan? No? You think plain old internet exposure is gonna make it all happen for you? Well if you do, start planning what to do with your Lotto winnings, ’cause you have the same chances of acheiving both.

  4. Anonymous

    @KikoJones

    I wasn’t agreeing so much with Stanley’s advice for smaller bands as I was his opinion that charging as much as currently gets charged for music downloads isn’t getting anyone anywhere. Perhaps his words for lesser known artists smack of hypocrisy and condescenion, but I think the opposite is true for his liberal views on downloading music. Coming from someone who has “done their stint in the record industry ‘machine’”, it helps the cheap-or-free downloads argument a bit.

    And as far as advice for artists goes, I guess it depends on what your goals are. If you want to be on Conan, yeah, maybe you should find a way to hire a publicist, but if you just want to get your music out there and heard and see what happens from there, you could do worse than giving out some free downloads and distributing online. Plenty of great bands are out there on tour that don’t have massive amounts of cash behind them. If your music is good and you work hard to spread the word about it, it’ll get heard.

    And you don’t need mounds of cash to do a little PR. Even if you decide you need to hire someone, there are loads of indie promotions companies and if they charge too much, you might even be able to find an interested friend to do the work. I hate to sound like grandpa, but hell, in the early 90s we pulled this off without the internet and called it DIY. It’s hard work for the little guy, but it can be done.

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