BPI and ISPs Tackle File Sharing. Strike One

The BPI today announced it reached a government brokered memorandum of understanding with six of the UK’s largest ISPs (BT, BSkyB, Virgin Media, Orange, Tiscali and Carphone Warehouse) to tackle online music file sharing. This will include sending out letters to their customers that are the heaviest downloaders during a three month trial period. This is in the context of the threat of legislation to compel ISPs to act should they not voluntarily do so. Indeed a departmental consultation document is due to be published soon.

This is not ‘three strikes and you’re out’. It is a letter. As such it is the result of compromise and negotiation and will not have the same impact as such a strategy, yet at least. Also as such it has a quite specific primary target group: families. 69 percent of UK music file sharers are aged under 35 and 51 percent are aged under 25. Of those under 25’s you can break them down into three core segments:

• Kids at home
• Students away from home
• Young adults

Students and young adults who pay or contribute to the ISP bill and who file share will be well aware of their activity and only the more nervous and conscientious can be expected to stop after receiveing a letter. But kids at home are much more likely to be impacted by letters from the ISPs as they’ll be going to their parents who will either have not been aware of their kids’ activities or else had turned a blind eye. It can be expected that a decent chunk of those will chastise their children and work on changing their ways.

The only problem is that many of those kids will be more tech savvy than their parents so some of those kids may continue to file share without their parent’s knowledge. A follow up letter here would probably bring the issue to a head.

If the BPI could get a sizeable chunk of file sharing kids of the network that will be quantifiable success for what is a significantly more palatable approach to the problem than the RIAA has pursued and France is pursuing. Though fully expect the libertarians to cry foul. Going after your own customers is only ever a last resort, but that is exactly what the UK music industry is facing now, and the BPI is damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t.

This is stage one of a longer process, not the end game. I expect the end game to lay some where between where we are now and the more draconian approaches in France and the US.

And of course compelling legal alternatives are the massively important additional piece of the puzzle and the Sky announcement being rushed out makes a lot of sense in this context, as much for being ‘on message’ for their customers as for the industry and government.

If you are press and would like to get some further comment on this then email PRESSEUROPE AT JUPITERRESEARCH DOT COM.