Today the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom released its anticipated Code of Practice for ISPs to help combat digital piracy (following hot on the heels of the tough Irish anti-piracy strategy). The Code forms part of the provisions of the Digital Economy Act and is a series of best practices for ISPs to follow rather than a new set of regulations. The intention is that copyright infringement will be seriously dented without need for more formal state intervention (such as the reserve powers of the Secretary of State to cut off repeat offenders’ broadband connections). I will be amazed if any statistically significant decrease in copyright infringement happens because of this Code being followed. Simply advising ISPs when and how to notify subscribers who are infringing copyright is not enough.
But I’m not saying that draconian state intervention is inherently necessary. Indeed, the preferred option is for legislation to establish clear limits and consequences but for consumers to be lured away from the illegal sector by compelling cheap and free alternatives. If ISPs and mobile operators are empowered with truly engaging services that give on-demand access to content on the terms consumers want and with most or all of the cost hidden, then file sharing will meet its match.
File sharing (on network and off network) exists because it fills a needs vacuum. A vacuum which neither iTunes nor Spotify sufficiently fill on their own. Subsidized, unlimited MP3 subscriptions would nip file sharing in the bud. Why would a teenager use BitTorrent when they can get the same music at higher quality and with clean meta data and that they can use however they like, all as part of their parents’ ISP bill?
So my hope for this Code of Practice is that it helps drive the labels and telcos along the path of business partners that are sensitive enough to each other’s needs to hit upon solutions that both drive ROI and reduce piracy. Because if any lesson can be learnt from the last decade it is that file sharing cannot be defeated by legislation and litigation alone.