Mark Mulligan[Posted by Mark Mulligan]

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The UK
creative industries have pulled together to lobby the government on the issue
of online piracy
  A coalition of TV
bosses and senior music and movie executives are pushing for tighter
enforcement of illegal downloading and for the creation of a body that would
oversee enforcement, owned by the creative industries but overseen by the
regulator Ofcom.  The coalition comprises
heavyweights such as Universal Music and Sony Pictures and  UK broadcasters Channel 4 and
Virgin Media.


Unsurprisingly the proposals have been subject to a fair
amount of flak in the tech press. but there are some ideas worthy of serious
consideration.  Regular readers will know
that my position on digital piracy encompasses the perspectives on both sides
of the argument.  This doesn’t mean that
I sit in the middle, indeed I am in the often uncomfortable position of being
able to annoy both sides!  But that
caveat aside, here are what I think are the four key dynamics that underpin
this issue:


  1. Illegal
    downloading of content is a bigger problem now than it ever was.  We’re nearly ten years after the launch
    of Napster.  That decade has seen
    tens of millions spent globally on legal action, enforcement and
    lobbying.  But more  consumers are downloading more content
    across more platforms and applications than ever before. Current
    enforcement may be restricting the size of the growth but it’s not doing
  2. The
    first generation of file sharers (Digital Natives if you like) are hitting
    the age at which they stop being time rich / cash poor and become cash
    rich / time poor.  This is the stage
    at which they should start becoming core media buyers.  Nothing suggests this is about to
    happen.  Their ‘free’ habits are too
    deeply ingrained.
  3. Most
    legal paid services online and on mobile are niche at best (e.g. iTunes)
    and failures in the main. 
  4. Physical
    media sales are declining in many sectors in may regions.  Piracy is far from the only contributing
    factor but it is a key one.


So doing nothing simply isn’t an option, even if most media
execs recognize that enforcement in itself will not eliminate digital
piracy.  Indeed it will never disappear
entirely but a realistic aim is to push it to the margins in the same way that
shoplifting is in the high street equation.  
High profile industry led action, coupled with robust legislation and
effective partnerships between content owners and telcos are all key
ingredients that will help combat the problem effectively. 

But the secret
is a comprehensive landscape of compelling legal alternatives that
cater for all consumer segments.  This
inherently means fighting free with free itself in order to engage younger,
typically file sharing, consumers.  The
music industry is already on this path (cf Spotify, We7) as are TV broadcasters
(cf Hulu, iPlayer) and so too many games providers.  But there is a lot more to be done, not least
in ensuring that the business models are sustainable, particularly during the
economic downturn.


The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how big your stick
is unless you’ve got a nice fat juicy carrot dangling in front of the horse’s