Attacking piracy through new legal measures and balancing the field for content creators - those are the recurring themes in a letter to The Times from Lord Peter Mandelson, U.K. Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, and a letter to The Guardian from Lucian Grange, Universal Music International's chairman and chief executive.
Mandelson emphasized the importance of drawing a clear line between right and wrong, and he framed piracy in terms of Britain's place on the world's cultural stage. All in all, the letter was marked by determined language.
We are fast approaching the tenth anniversary of the trial in which Napster.com, the site that enabled the first real boom in file sharing, was shut down after legal action by record labels. This legal action was hugely expensive, time-consuming and ultimately did little for consumers. Why? Because it failed to encourage rights holders to develop new business models and did nothing to seek to change consumer behaviour. A decade on, we have another opportunity, and for some in the content industries, perhaps the last.
On one hand, Mandelson believes "a good quality, cheap, safe and efficient experience" will cause consumers to cease illegal downloading. That's a fair argument and one that points to flaws in previous services and business models. Yet he backs temporary account suspension if it "helps build a market" of good, cheap, safe and efficient services. This is an odd game of chicken-or-the-egg. Which will come first: good legal services or harsher anti-piracy measures? Or must they need to occur in tandem for a positive outcome? If the next generation of music services were good enough to dampen piracy, a three-strikes law would not be necessary. That begs the question: Why not just introduce these "good, quality, safe and efficient" music services and proactively reduce piracy? Maybe they're not good enough to stand on their own? Maybe there is no compelling alternative to illegal P2P services? If that is the case, strict laws are necessary to give legal services a fighting chance.
If Grainge represents his industry, then it's clear record labels would rather roll out game-changing services in tandem with tougher piracy measures. According to Grainge, the threat of temporary suspension, while harsh, is a "last resort for persistent offenders" and a prerequisite for the growth of legitimate services. But, great new music services can blossom without harsher measures. New services that are just average, they will have a much tougher time.
Why wait for government intervention before rolling out the stores and services of the future? It's a question worth asking. ISP-based services are on their way, we're told, though no firm specifics have been given, no user interfaces have been shown to the public and no pricing plans floated ahead of launch. Though there is more money to be made from smart products than will be lost to piracy, the focus continues to be on the latter. A good offense beats a good defense - though both may be necessary to play ball. Let's see some offense.