A simple solution to the copyright debate?

Alison Wenham, Chairman and Chief Executive of AIM, rounds off this month's edition of Music Magazine
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The Independent Culture

The copyright debate is finally coming to a head in the UK, with the recent announcement by the Government that if ISPs and the music industry fail to agree a voluntary solution, they will step in. This follows the French government’s lead on the responsibilities of ISPs in identifying and stamping out copyright infringement.

What does that mean, precisely? The Three Strikes proposal – that is, if you persistently access and share music files from unlicensed sites, your broadband connection will be cancelled – is widely regarded as a bit of a blunt instrument to address a simple problem, the inability to monetise the use of content developed by professionals for sale to others. Because, in recent years, the “sale” bit of that consumer contract has obviously become hopelessly compromised.

However, plus ça change… the music industry is finally coming round to the idea that working with, rather than against the technological revolution might lead to a more profitable, and a more peaceable relationship with the fans that drive the new distribution platforms (ISPs) who serve that fanbase with vast choice.

Quite apart from the obvious benefits of freeing up the consumer from the threat of a dead broadband connection, a commercial solution for the supply of music with ISPs also anticipates the necessary changes which must be addressed by ISPs themselves, ironically not too dissimilar from our own problems. The huge amount of bandwidth needed to serve TV and other audio-visual content has encouraged ISPs to move to the next stage of their commercial development, following the explosive growth of just connecting the nation to broadband. Their opportunity is to now differentiate from the competition by offering extra services to consumers, who, by opting for the service, would remove the threat of a dead connection at the same time.

If the music and ISP industries can work together to create a service which licenses the use of music at a monthly subscription, consumers could carry on enjoying the music they want at a cost which is part of their broadband contract. Consumers opting for value added service would be free from any threat of disconnection. Those who didn’t, but who continued to copy and share music from pirated sites would be required to make a simple choice – pay for your content, or go somewhere else. A virtuous circle for fans, for ISPs and for the artists and companies who invest in them is surely now soon to be realised, and a welcome solution to all the years of confusion.

Alison Wenham is Chairman and Chief Executive, AIM (The Association of Independent Music) www.musicindie.com.