There’s nothing new about record companies throwing their weight around. Since, Napster they have sought to control access to illegal music, encouraged by artists such as Metallica, who themselves originally owed their fame to bootleg tapes.
In Ireland, the record companies represented by the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) have recently taken the fight to the ISPs in an illegal attempt to block Irish internet users from accessing certain sites. The courts cannot legally censor internet content so IRMA targeted the providers. It is just a little ironic that the Irish broadband rollout is one of the more ineffective schemes in Europe.
IRMA focussed on The Pirate Bay where in addition to legal music, one can download open source ebooks, computer programs and applications, and other material. It would be naive to imply that copyrighted material was not being downloaded. However, a letter published on Digital Rights shows that IRMA have no qualms about blocking gigabytes of legal material to get at the tiny fraction of illegal downloaders.
Eircom is Ireland’s largest ISP. Before the sale of semi-state industries, it was the only telecoms provider in Ireland. Now cash strapped and asset stripped, Eircom’s market advantage lies in their ownership of the phone line network. Other ISPs need to use the network to service their clients.
The only company to bow to legal pressure by IRMA is Eircom, which has blocked The Pirate Bay. However, targeting the ISPs is not a new approach nor an entirely successful one. Record companies in Italy attempted to block The Pirate Bay website. This endeavour increased Pirate Bay’s traffic and resulted in a negative judgment from the court. The ban was judged to be illegal under European Directive, 2000/31 CE. This judgment also applies in Ireland, but has not been implemented or adhered to.
The majority of internet users in Ireland do not know how to download illegal material, especially since the clamping down on sites like Napster and Kazaa, and would not know what a torrent is or what to do with it. Those who do know also have the technical skills to set up a proxy server and bypass whatever blocking technology Eircom has put in place. Thankfully, other ISPs are not currently participating in this attempt to censor internet content. However, IRMA has requested that they participate in the block or face legal action.
What is interesting is why IRMA chose to focus on The Pirate Bay. There are hundreds of peer-to-peer file sharing networks accessible from any computer with an internet connection that have not been blocked or even mentioned. It is possible that the high profile imprisonment and fining of The Pirate Bay maintainers was seen by IRMA as an opportunity to get in on the game. One thing for certain is that the record companies are determined to use any and all technologies and laws to block the illegal distribution of copyrighted material via the internet.
There are those who embrace the free distribution of material online. Bestselling author Paulo Coelho offered to be a witness in the 2009 Pirate Bay trial of Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundström. He attributes increasing sales of his work to illegal distribution on the internet. In addition he stated that “a person who does not share is not only selfish, but bitter and alone”.
Naturally, this is not a legal position but there are increasing movements away from strict copyright. Leo Babuta of Zen Habits has uncopyrighted his book, and Creative Commons provide licences to reserve some rights with regard to original work. MySpace has longtime been the main tool for musicians to get their work heard by a wider audience.
Record companies are fighting a losing battle. Eventually the European Directive will be enacted and Eircom will have to unblock The Pirate Bay, because their actions are illegal and censorship is still frowned upon. The Minister for Communications, Eamon Ryan, has been silent on this issue but Irish internet users are protesting the ban. Eventually, he may hear.
In spite of what the record companies appear to think, they are killing their own industry, both through the resentment among the general public and in purely monetary terms. It has been revealed in the Irish Times that illegal downloaders spend more money on music than those who not not break the law:
People who illegally download music spend more on official releases than those who obey download laws, a British survey published this weekend has suggested.
The think-tank Demos said it found illegal downloaders spent an average of £77 a year on genuine music, £33 more than those who claim never to have wrongly accessed music for free.
Demos’s research found that 83 per cent of people downloading music illegally claim to buy the same or more music as a result.
The 42 per cent of people who admitted breaking the law said they did so to “try before you buy”, suggesting that file sharing may encourage sales. Illegal file sharers provide the music industry with an estimated £200 million in revenue, Demos added.
In the war against illegal downloaders, every party loses. However, one must never let the facts get in the way of a good campaign. I doubt that any data would induce the record companies to halt their illegal actions or the pirates theirs.