Friday, January 25, 2008

IFPI to ISPs: You Need to Become Content Cops, Or Else

On Thursday of this past week the IFPI, a recording industry trade group, released its Digital Music Report 2008, a fascinating admixture of fact and fantasy, data and propaganda. The recorded music industry experienced a 10 percent annual revenue decline overall in 2007 according to the report. The digital distribution picture was brighter, with worldwide revenues increasing 40 percent to approximately $2.9 billion. This suggests that total annual recorded music industry revenues come in at just over $19 billion. IFPI Thumps ISP Agenda, Details Digital Dilemma CDs took a serious nosedive last year. Now, waves of sales data are rubbing it in. In reports circulated Thursday, the IFPI pointed to a 10 percent annual revenue decline, though specific unit sales were not disclosed. Instead, the group focused heavily on a high-growth digital story that remains underwhelming compared to physical declines. Specifically, global digital revenues jumped 40 percent to an estimated $2.9 billion, or roughly 15 percent of broader industry sales. That puts the top-level tally at a generous $19.3 billion, a figure that is falling fast.

Section 5 of the report, pointing the way to the industry's future legislative and enforcement initiatives is particularly attention-getting in a Times Square billboard sort of way. Entitled "Time for Governments and ISPs to Take Reponsibility," and the sub-heading "Today, getting ISPs to help protect creative content is the music industry's top priority." The report states that

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the "gatekeepers" of the internet and have a vital role to play in curbing copyright abuse. They have the technical ability to do so, and increasingly the commercial incentives as well. The full cooperation of ISPs could lead to a very significant change in the music sector's ability to tackle copyright infringement while reducing the amount of litigation needed to deal with online piracy.
No doubt. And the report goes on to sing the praises of France's President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who trumpeted an initiative under which ISPs in France would "commit to disconnect persistent copyright infringers on their networks."

A key question to be asked, however, is whether the copyright laws and the world/culture we want to create are actually served by this new music industry agenda. They would happily re-frame the traditional role of ISPs, making them the new "content cops," parked along the information highway. I'll be honest, something about this gives me the creeps. I've never been crazy about the RIAAs initiatives against consumers. But this strikes me as worse, by a lot. I don't want my ISP becoming a filter for content.

For those who follow these policy issues, I highly recommend the book "Wired Shut: copyright and the shape of digital culture" by Tarleton Gillespie.
One great line from the book: "[w]hen content is locked and devices promise to love, honor, and obey their built-in rules, every use of a cultural work can be tagged with a price, and every right can come with a bill."

Technology allows us to do things today that we could hardly have imagined yesterday. And it hardly needs mentioning that not all the things we can do with it are good. Still, I want to emphasize that some of the things that technology can do to prevent illegal activity would create a world that few of us want to live in. Consider, for a moment, that it is probably quite possible for the government to insist that automakers keep all automobiles from going faster than 75 miles per hour. Or that it is also technically feasible to issue tickets to every driver each and every time his or her vehicle exceeds posted speed limits. That would certainly reduce or eliminate speeding, eh? Is that the world we want to create? And does it much matter whether the instigator of creation of this sort of world is governmental/public or corporate/private? One could certainly argue that the kind of tyranny produced by this approach is worse when it lies beyond the reach of the political process.

Incidentally, several digital music industry news sources followed the IFPI story with varying reactions, including Ars Technica, Digital Music News and

Copies of the reports can be found on the IFPI site and at

Related Story
"Mega-ISP AT&T Considers Less Dumb Pipes," January 9, 2008 http://www.

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