What’s Going on Between the Government and the British Music Industry?

Most readers will be aware of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between leading UK ISPs and the UK music industry body the BPI, with the government and Ofcom effectively acting as mediators. The MOU focuses on pursuing co-regulatory solutions, including a trial in which ISPs send letters to file sharers. There’s been lots of vociferous debate about how far government involvement should go, and whether the UK should ultimately end up with a ‘Three Strikes’ policy whereby repeat serial offenders get their broadband disconnected.

Though the debate has raged fiercely, the perception has been that the government has been sympathetic to helping protect the music industry’s IP. Indeed the Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has spoken of the importance of protecting the UK’s Creative Industries and even talked of the government’s “serious legislative intent” with regards to the issue.

So imagine most people’s surprise when the Intellectual Property Minister David Lammy threw a spanner in the works with an interview with the Times in which he appeared to rule out any legislative solution and compared file sharing to stealing soap from hotel rooms. This triggered a stern rebuttal from the BPI. And to be fair, the soap comparison is a poor one. The core business of hotels is not selling soap. Stealing the soap is not stealing a hotelier’s core business.

That issue aside, what these comments suggest is one or both of the following:

  • The Government is beginning a process of disengagement or distancing from it’s previous position
  • The Government is highly divided and does not have a common position

This highly emotive issue has transcended music business and IP issues, and has firmly entered the realm of national politics, which isn’t necessarily a good thing for either the BPI or the ISPs. Politically motivated decisions and regulation do not often deliver good business results. And with the economy where it is, and, as my colleague Ian Fogg pointed out, with the UK government sensitive to its fragile popularity ratings, passing non-consumer friendly forceful legislation probably isn’t at the top of the agenda.