Give us file-sharing licences

The verdict in which a Swedish court jailed the founders The Pirate Bay site is just the latest attempt by the phonographic industries, film studios and record companies to cling on to the greedy monopoly they have over distribution of audio and visual media.

The trouble is, even leaving the price of downloads aside, no “legal” music or video service can ever match a file-sharing network. The reason for this is that the content available is too limited and controlled. Certain types of music and film are promoted heavily, while more obscure titles are unavailable. Also, the industries tend to divide the world up into regions, and assume no-one from one region is interested in the culture of another. Often there is no legal way to buy copies of certain foreign films in another country. There is no way to watch most foreign TV shows in another country, no matter how much money you are willing to pay. And there’s no way to browse a huge inventory of the most obscure composers’ or bands’ music from around the world. All of these things are, however, possible with file-sharing systems, such as the ones that are currently branded “illegal”. With file-sharing, you can access any media that someone else has. It’s possible to discover new things, find obscure recordings, watch TV shows from any country, find that special cut of a film that’s never been released in your country… The list goes on.

My suggestion to resolve the issue of “illegal” file-sharing is that there should be an annual fee for which is it possible to obtain a file-sharing licence. This could be collected in a similar way to the TV Licence in the UK. Once someone has a licence, they could use file-sharing networks as much as they like, as long as it was for their own personal use, using any file-sharing system they choose (not one with limited content controlled by a particular company or organisation). The money raised would go to the performers, composers, etc. as royalty payments. I would personally happily pay £200 or even £300 a year to legitimise any file-sharing I might want to do. This would be very many times the amount I currently give to the film and music industries each year, but would be money well spent, unlike the poor offerings available at present.

A fallacy often repeated by those who don’t understand file-sharing is that every track or film downloaded represents a lost sale. My contention is that in the vast majority of cases, the alternative would be that the film or music would simply not have been obtained at all, so no revenue was lost through file-sharing. And as for the concept of people obtaining an excessive amount of content for free once they have a licence, it should be remembered that there are only so many films or music tracks one can watch or listen to in a year. Simply building up a big collection on your hard disc for other licence-holders to download isn’t an issue – again, the content wouldn’t have been paid for otherwise, so no revenue is lost.

The difficulty with the above is that very little of the revenue would go to record companies. Now, record companies, when pursuing people for copyright infringement, always use the argument that they are doing so to stick up for the rights of the poor, impoverished song-writers and performers. The truth, I suspect, is that very little of the money currently goes to the artists, certainly not to the less well-known ones. A good deal of the money goes to the record companies. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that they should oppose any form of file-sharing. The phonographic industry and big film distribution companies are desperate to retain the stranglehold over the distribution of music and video content, even though there is no longer a need for any physical media to be distributed. This is the issue that is preventing modernisation of copyright laws to enable the public to access recorded works in a way that’s fitting for the 21st century. While the big companies wield the influence they currently have over governments and courts, such as that Swedish court, no progress can be made.

One response to “Give us file-sharing licences”

  1. Terry likes cactii

    I basically agree with you on all your points with the exclusion that I would not want to pay as much as you because I download less than 15 items in a year.
    You are 110% correct about “obscure … and not being available”.
    You are 110% correct about “not being available in that country”.
    Also many artists are paid a “1 time fee” and all roylties go to licence holder, QED nothing goes to the original artist !

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