The BPI have added some momentum to the anti-piracy debate with a report suggesting that over 7 million British Internet Users use file sharing networks and well over half a million are using legal services. Both numbers are on the high side. Jupiter’s consumer survey research suggests that regular users of file sharing networks (both for music and video) make up about 14 percent of Internet Users. The legal service users are way below half a million. The report also suggested (using numbers from a separate 3rd party study) that spending on music for file sharers had declined, what they failed to mention was that this is an overall trend of all people, not just file sharers!
The numbers aside, the BPI’s press release today has some very significant elements. It foreshadows the British Music Industry getting tough on illegal file sharing and it is right to do so. Unfortunately education alone isn’t enough. However the BPI would be well advised to hold off on legal action until the legitimate sector has really kicked into gear. By late summer, early Autumn UK music fans will be spoilt for choice for legitimate online music services. The established players OD2, Wippit and PlayLouder will be competing for space with Sony, iTunes, Napster, Music Net, Mean Fiddler etc etc. These are the stories which should be grabbing the headlines in the summer of 2004, not the inevitable “Grandfather up in court for downloading music for his grandchild” headlines that will follow legal action against file sharers. I do not dispute the BPI’s right to take legal action should be taken against the “serial up-loaders” but I do believe they need to be careful with their timing.
That said, I actually think the BPI will indeed tread carefully. They are already going the extra mile to warn people first before taking action (both through the press release and through sending warning messages in the P2P networks – a very good idea). So British music file sharers will already have had ample warning. Unfortunately, however the BPI play the legal action card, they’ll end up with bad publicity and will risk alienating already disenfranchised music fans, that’s why they need to time their moves to perfection.
A Wildcard: it’s to be hoped that the BPI will not follow the RIAA’s example and focus solely on Kazaa. The file sharing threat extends way beyong the Kazaa network these days.