PlayLouder are reportedly close to signing up a major UK ISP (Virgin Media?) to a legitimized-file-sharing service. Consumers would pay a 5 GBP a month fee which would essentially legalize their file sharing and remunerate rights holders by analyzing all music files using deep packet inspection technology.

PlayLouder have been trying to get this service, in one form or another, off the ground for years but have repeatedly come up against resistance from the majors. If the story is accurate it suggests that the labels consider the state of the music market and the fight against piracy to be in real trouble. For, whilst this is a compelling and intuitive solution, and indeed a more practicable way to address piracy than large scale enforcement, it non-the-less sets a crucial precedent. This is essentially blanket licensing illegal downloading, and in turn seriously undermines the efforts of established legitimate alternatives. It also directly associates the music industry and ISPs with some unsavory companies and potentially leaves them exposed. E.g. what happens if a subscriber gets a virus on their computer from a P-to-P network whilst paying the industry their fiver a month? Wouldn’t they have some right to expect a quality of service commitment from the labels? What ever the T&Cs may actually say. And on a more mundane, but much more likely level, what about when the file quality is poor, or the content doesn’t match the file name? Or the file is an industry spoof file?! Simply saying that it’s the networks’ faults doesn’t wash if the ISP is charging for legitimized access on behalf of the music industry?

And doesn’t this essentially legitimize illegal file sharing? Is industry ready for that? Also, if one ISP deploys this, just for music, the enforcement and education story gets MUCH more complex. E.g. Yes it’s illegal to download movies from P-to-P networks, but not music, well actually is also, unless you happen to get broadband from X.